Doctors warn breast cancer treatment increases risk of heart disease

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Patients who undergo breast cancer treatment are at a greater risk of heart disease, according to a recent warning from the American Heart Association.

The warning was published Thursday, ahead of Friday’s “National Wear Red Day,” which encourages people to wear red to raise awareness about women’s risk of heart disease.

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Dr. Dharmesh Patel is a cardiologist at the Stern Cardiovascular Foundation in Southaven Miss., and board president of the Mid-South American Heart Association.

“It’s very important we treat breast cancer,” Patel said. “But we have to understand that sometimes the treatments for breast cancer can actually affect the heart.”

A heart’s job is to pump blood throughout someone’s body. Patel explained how cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can weaken the heart muscle.

“Chemo therapy is more likely to affect the strength of the heart, or the pumping ability,” Patel said. “Radiation is more likely to affect the blockading of the heart further down the road.”

Data show more women are beating breast cancer, but the treatment to survive cancer presents health problems later.

According to the report from the American Heart Association, “Improvements in early detection and treatment of breast cancer have led to an increasing number of breast cancer survivors who are at risk of long-term cardiac complications from cancer treatments.”

Patel said healthy hearts can often recover from the impact of cancer treatments, and not all damage caused by cancer treatment is permanent.

He added that someone with a family history of heart disease should be more cautious when considering treatment options.

“That’s where the doctor-patient dialogue comes in,” Patel said. “If you do get chemotherapy, then I think it’s reasonable to check the heart function during and after the chemotherapy.”

The heart is a muscle, and Patel said it’s important to keep it strong by eating well, exercising, and knowing important numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.