Some breast cancer therapies can damage the heart, the American Heart Association has warned.

The most common heart-related side effects of cancer therapy, which may not appear until long after treatment ends, include abnormal heart rhythms, valve problems or heart failure. 

Breast cancer survivors are more likely to develop heart problems after certain cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy.   

Experts are urging doctors and breast cancer patients to discuss and consider the cardiovascular effects of treatment options.

Some breast cancer therapies can cause abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure, AHA warns

Some breast cancer therapies can cause abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure, AHA warns

There are about 44 million women in the US living with cardiovascular disease, and more than 4 million living with breast cancer. 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the US.

Yet, experts say many women think breast cancer is the bigger threat.

‘Most people with breast cancer fear death from breast cancer,’ Dr Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist at the Ohio State University Ross Heart Hospital, told the Associated Press.  

However, they are more likely to be killed by heart disease, even if they are breast cancer survivors, and especially if they are at least 65 years old, she said.  

Heart-related side effects of cancer therapy can include damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels, heart valve disease, and arrhythmia. 

Herceptin, an immunotherapy drug used to treat a certain type of breast cancer, can increase the risk of heart failure in patients. 

Radiation therapy, which is used to kill cancer cells in the breasts or armpits, can narrow or block arteries.

Dr Mehta said other cancer drugs can cause abnormal heart rhythms or tighten muscles in the artery, causing chest pains and increasing the risk of a heart attack.

If patients develop heart failure early during their treatment, experts say slowing down or altering therapy can reduce further risk. 

The AHA warning, published in Circulation, suggests breast cancer and heart problems are, in many ways, intertwined.

The two conditions share many common risk factors, such as age and smoking.

‘More importantly, we see that many of the same things that improve heart health (healthy diet, healthy weight, exercise, not smoking) can also reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer,’ said Dr Mehta.

Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy — a medical treatment used to relieve women from menopausal symptoms — is also a risk factor for both breast cancer and heart disease.

The interconnection doesn’t end when the cancer is gone. 

Long-term breast cancer survivors can also develop heart problems long after the treatments end.  

However, experts don’t encourage breast cancer patients to refuse recommended treatment.  

‘These potential side effects impact each patient differently,’ Dr Mehta said. ‘Modern treatment is essential for fighting breast cancer and improving survival.’

Instead, their urging patients to discuss the heart effects of breast cancer treatments with their doctor.

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