Although many women who have survived breast cancer are worried about the chance of recurrence, recent research suggests that risk of a heart problem is greater or equal to the risk of breast cancer reoccurring. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer can often be toxic to the heart muscle as well as to other organs. Chemotherapy side effects may increase the risk of heart disease, including weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
A significant proportion of women with breast cancer have one or more risk factors for heart disease at the time of breast cancer diagnosis that further increase the risk of cardiotoxicity, including smoking, obesity, lack of activity and high cholesterol. Additionally, if a woman had radiation therapy on the area of body that includes the heart, there may be an increased risk of cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease and heart attack. The combination of radiation and chemotherapy can further increase a woman’s risk of heart damage. Thus, after second malignancies, heart disease is the leading cause of long-term morbidity and mortality among breast cancer survivors.
If you are a survivor of breast cancer, take control of your heart and breast health by following some simple guidelines:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Manage stress! – Stress can shut down your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off disease. It also can prevent the body from healing, which can put you at greater risk for heart disease.
- Exercise! Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times a week.
- Monitor and manage diabetes.
- Eat healthy! Your diet should be low in fat and include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables.
- Actively monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Work with your physician to reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol if they are high.
- Get rest. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night to heal and keep the immune system healthy.
Importantly, if you have received chemotherapy or radiation for breast cancer, it may be useful to follow up with a preventive cardiologist on a regular basis. If you experience significant problems such as shortness of breath or chest pain, report it immediately to your health care providers.
About Dr. Parashar
Susmita Parashar, MD, MPH, MS is a Board certified cardiologist at the Emory Heart and Vascular Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Emory University School of Medicine. Prior to joining the Division of Cardiology, Dr. Parashar was Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Medicine at Emory for 8 years. She applies her experience as a Board certified internist in providing a holistic care to patients.
She has received several grants and awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association to conduct research on women and heart disease. She has served as Emory principal investigator for large NIH – funded clinical research for heart attack patients. She was also invited to participate as a co-investigator for the NIH- fnded Cardiovascular Health Study for older adults.