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Especially affects those over 65

New paper brings attention to heart disease risk associated with breast cancer treatment

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
The American Heart Association recently published a scientific statement in the journal Circulation to raise awareness that breast cancer treatments may be associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular diseases.

"This paper was written because not everyone is aware of this — the primary care field and patients aren’t aware of the side effects of treatment," Dr. Laxmi Mehta, chair of the writing group for the paper, told HCB News. "We wanted to provide a document where all of that is put into one place for the clinician to review."

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It is known that breast cancer survivors, especially those over age 65, are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer. Some cancer treatments including HER-2 targeted therapies can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure.

In some cases, that is only a temporary side effect and heart function will improve after treatment is stopped, but in other cases it can cause permanent damage. The paper states that the early development of heart failure could indicate that that a new treatment approach is necessary.

Radiation treatment can affect the heart arteries and lead to blockages or coronary artery disease. In addition, some breast cancer drugs can cause life-threatening heart rhythms in certain patients.

But Mehta cautioned that this paper was never intended to scare patients away from getting their treatment.

"Not everyone who has those treatments is going to get the heart side effects, so we think the best approach to it is to treat the cancer, and then, if issues arrive, then to work closely with the cardiac and oncology team," she said.

The paper also stresses the importance of adhering to a number of ideal heart health behaviors such as the AHA's Life's Simple 7. That includes being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco, maintaining healthy levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

"We want patients to remember that as they survive breast cancer, they need to take in light their heart health and overall general health into account and making sure their blood pressure and cholesterol are in the range they should be," said Mehta.

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