Heart Health and Cancer

February is American Heart Month. As the #1 killer of Americans, it’s time to turn our attention towards #ourheart and ways to prevent heart disease. This article will discuss heart disease and, more specifically, cancer and heart disease, if there is a link between the two and if cancer treatments cause heart problems. And also provide heart-healthy tips to prevent heart problems and to help reduce the risk of developing heart problems after cancer treatment. 

Facts About Heart Disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States
  • Someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
  • Every 36 seconds, someone in the United States will die from heart disease.
  • Each year, 655,000 Americans die from heart disease.
  • 1 in 5 people who have a heart attack will not even know it.
  • It is possible to reduce your risk with exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking.

1. Does Having a Heart Attack Increase My Risk of Getting Cancer?

 In an American Heart Association Scientific Session, research reported that having a heart attack may increase your chance of getting cancer. If you have survived a heart attack, you may be at greater risk than those without cardiovascular disease. If you have risk factors for heart disease, you have a higher risk of developing cancer than those without any risks. This is important because cancer and heart disease are the leading two causes of death in the U.S. For this reason, everyone should try to reduce their cardiovascular disease risks to help reduce their chance of having heart disease and cancer.                               

2. Can Cancer Treatments Cause Heart Problems?

According to the National Cancer Institute, certain cancer treatments can damage the heart and the cardiovascular system. High blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms and heart failure can be caused or made worse by chemotherapy or radiation. This is because cancer treatments can affect many organs in the body including the heart.  It is also believed that because cancer patients are living much longer these days, they are also living long enough to experience these cardiovascular problems.  

At Saint John’s Cancer Institute, our physicians will create a treatment plan created just for you. All situations are different so patients receive individualized plans developed specifically for them.  Your cancer care team will recommend ways for you to reduce your risk of developing heart problems from your cancer treatments. Be sure to have these conversations with your doctor and your team.   

3. Keeping Your Heart Healthy While Dealing with Cancer:

It is always important to protect your heart and remain healthy but when you also have cancer, it is even more crucial. By making some good lifestyle choices, it is possible to reduce your risk of getting heart disease. Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to help improve your heart and help prevent heart disease.

  • Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. It’s difficult to know if your blood pressure and cholesterol are high without having them checked by a doctor.  Since both are major risk factors for heart disease, it is important to know your numbers and work with your doctor if they are high. 
  • Make good, healthy food choices.  Eat foods that are good for your heart.  Be sure to incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables and try to avoid saturated and trans fat and too much sugar.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight.  You can talk to your doctor about your body mass index (BMI) and learn what would be a good number for you. Being overweight means you are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Try to eat well and exercise as this will help you to reach a healthy weight.
  • Stress is also not good for your heart.  Studies show that stress can contribute to high blood pressure and possible heart attacks. Managing your stress levels can also improve your mental and physical health.
  • Quit smoking!  Smoking raises your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and other health problems.  Talk to your doctor to find ways to quit.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.  While you sleep, your body is working to support brain function and your overall well-being.

Join our Webinar: Understanding the Cardiac Effects of Cancer Treatment

Listen to Saint John’s Cancer Institute and Pacific Heart Institute experts as they talk about how some conventional chemotherapy drugs, new targeted therapy drugs and radiation therapy used to treat cancer can increase your risk for heart problems.  Brought to you by the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. 

Register for the Webinar


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Please contact us if you would like to speak with one of our specialists. Our physicians are here to answer all of your questions and develop a treatment plan just for you! Use the following link to contact us. Virtual appointments are also available if needed.

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