People with Cancer Face Increased Risk of Death from Heart Disease

According to a 2019 study from the Penn State Cancer Institute, cancer patients are at a higher risk of dying from heart disease and stroke than the general population.2 The study authors reported that certain types of cancer are associated with a higher risk of dying from heart disease.2 These include breast, prostate, endometrial, and thyroid cancer.2 The results of the study were published in the European Heart Journal.

About half of people with those 4 kinds of cancer may die from some form heart disease, say the researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine.2 These rising numbers are driving researchers to look into how cancer and cancer treatments affect the heart.3

The study

This 2019 study was led by the Penn State Cancer Institute and was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. It examined data on 28 different kinds of cancer. Researchers evaluated specific cancer types and factors that could impact results, such as age, race, and gender.2,4

Findings

This report found that 10 percent of all cancer patients are dying from heart-related problems, not cancer.2-3 The study used data from a national registry of cancer patients in the US managed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).3-4

The study compared information on 3.2 million people diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2012 with the general population. They found that 38 percent died from their cancer and 11 percent died from cardiovascular diseases.3-4 The majority of heart disease deaths were in people who had breast and prostate cancer. These are two of the most commonly diagnosed cancers.2-3

76 percent of these cardiovascular deaths were due to heart disease. People with more aggressive, hard to treat cancers in the lungs, liver, and brain were more likely to die from their cancer.2

What are the risks?

The risk of death from heart disease for cancer patients is greater than the general public overall. The risk is greatest in the first year after diagnosis or before age 35, but the risk can last for life.2,4

Aggressive cancer treatments can impact the heart. Some treatments can increase the risk of heart failure, weaken the heart muscle, or damage arteries and valves. Newly diagnosed cancer patients may also have other illnesses identified when they seek care for a cancer diagnosis.2 Additionally, as cancer treatment improves and people live longer, the number of people who die of heart disease will likely increase.1

Awareness about the risk of heart disease

People with cancer and their doctors can benefit from better information and awareness about the risks of heart disease. Understanding the risks associated with treatment can help doctors and patients plan for the future and start heart care early.

With better education, people may make heart-healthy lifestyle choices. This could benefit their general health as well as decrease their risk of heart disease and the return of their cancer.2-3

The importance of multidisciplinary care

Internists, oncologists, and cardiologists can work together to provide earlier, aggressive, and coordinated care.1 Cardio-oncology is a developing field that combines care for the heart and cancer.

The researchers suggest that cardio-oncology specialists could make a difference and improve the general care and outcome for cancer patients.2,4 Educational and interventional programs have also become more common in recent years. These programs can help cancer survivors manage and live with the long-term effects of cancer treatments.3-4

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