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Can Cancer Treatment Break Your Heart?

March 16, 2018

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Moffitt Expert Says Increased Heart Failure Risk in Survivors Warrants Monitoring

By Ann Miller Baker

Life-saving treatments for lymphoma and breast cancer may come with a cost to the heart. But that’s not reason to forego treatment, according to a Moffitt Cancer Center expert in cardiology and cancer.

A recent Mayo Clinic study showed patients treated for breast cancer or lymphoma were three times as likely to develop heart failure compared to those who did not have a cancer diagnosis. The risk was highest among patients who are older, have other health issues such as diabetes or whose chemotherapy included a class of drugs called anthracyclines like doxorubicin, which is known to cause heart damage in some people.

Michael Fradley, MD, director of the Cardio-Oncology Program at Moffitt and the University of South Florida, says the large epidemiologic sample in this study confirms risks associated with such drugs. But he cautions that the majority of the cancer patients in the study did not develop heart failure.  Overall, one in ten developed heart failure within twenty years of completing their cancer treatment, with the highest risk within five years of treatment.

“These findings highlight the importance of vigilant monitoring for signs or symptoms of heart failure in breast cancer and lymphoma survivors,” says Dr. Fradley. “It also argues for aggressive cardiovascular risk factor modification prior to, during and after cancer treatment.

“Patients should not forgo potentially life-saving cancer treatments simply because of these results,” he adds.  “Rather, they should have an open conversation with their oncologist about potential risks. They may also consider evaluation by a cardio-oncologist prior to starting therapy to ensure their cardiovascular health is optimized as best as possible. And they should be seen routinely by a cardiologist as part of their survivorship care.”