Scientists have called for more focus on research and specialization to further understand commonalities between heart disease and breast cancer in women through a new scientific statement issued by the American Heart Association.
The statement is the first to compile the newest information on prevalence, shared risk factors and cardiotoxic effects of cancer therapy, as well as prevention and treatment of heart disease in breast cancer patients. It appears in the journal Circulation.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. and globally. However, more women think breast cancer is the bigger threat. In many ways, the two diseases can intertwine.
Researchers say the use of hormone replacement therapy is another common risk factor for women. Studies have shown it can raise the risk of breast cancer and heart disease among certain groups of women, and is therefore a risk factor that can be modified. Two factors that can’t be changed are age and genetics. As women get older, their risk for breast cancer increases. The incidence of cardiovascular risk also increases with age, even more so with the onset of menopause.
The most common heart-related side effect of cancer therapy is left ventricular dysfunction. Coronary artery disease, valve disease, arrhythmias and heart failure can also occur.
Researchers say it is vital for cardiologists and oncologists to work together in caring for cancer patients. A person’s heart health should be considered when first making treatment selections and while monitoring treatment progression. In some cases, pre-existing heart conditions may guide the course of cancer care, or the cancer therapy itself can impact the heart and alter treatment plans.
The interconnection doesn’t end when the cancer is gone. According to scientists, long-term breast cancer survivors can develop heart problems after certain cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapy. Survivors also have increased cardiovascular risk factors, and the statement points out that heart disease prevention and modification of cardiac risk factors is essential during and after breast cancer treatment.
Over the last decade, the collaborative field of cardio-oncology has grown to provide the best cancer care without impacting heart health. The multi-disciplinary approach has led to new clinical methods to reduce the heart-related effects of cancer treatment.