The truly amazing advances that offer people with cancer the chance for a longer life sometimes come with a price—damage to the heart and arteries. Greater attention to the long-term physical, mental, and emotional needs of cancer survivors is helping limit this collateral damage, reports the March 2010 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.
Treating cancer isn't a precise science. Although doctors are getting better at targeting tumors, there's still no magic bullet that homes in on cancer cells and destroys them without damage to other parts of the body. The outward signs of off-target destruction include classic side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue. But there can be silent inner damage, too, to the heart and arteries. These injuries can appear immediately during therapy; other times, they don't surface for years.
To prevent this from happening, doctors try to make sure that the lifetime dose of certain medicines stays below the threshold for heart problems. Heart function should be monitored closely during treatment. Temporarily stopping a drug that is causing an immediate problem, lowering its dose, or starting treatment with an ACE inhibitor or other heart-protecting medicine are ways to allow chemotherapy to continue.
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