Treatments for breast cancer may harm the heart

But surveillance and other strategies — especially exercise — can limit the risk.


Image: © Khuong Hoang/Getty Images

Better treatments for breast cancer have contributed to the growing number of breast cancer survivors, now about three million in the United States. However, these women may face a heightened risk of heart disease from the cardiotoxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation, according to a statement from the American Heart Association in the Feb. 20, 2018, issue of Circulation.

Doctors have long known that certain cancer drugs can decrease the heart's pumping ability, especially doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and trastuzumab (Herceptin), two common treatments for breast cancer. Many women receive radiation therapy as well, which can cause heart tissue to scar or stiffen, possibly leading to valve disorders, coronary artery disease, or other heart problems. But specialists who focus on keeping the heart healthy during and after cancer treatment — known as cardio-oncologists — can offer strategies to both prevent and treat heart damage from cancer therapy.

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