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Guarding Your Heart During and After Cancer Treatment

Publication: Palestine Herald-Press

Along with remarkable advancements in life-saving cancer care, medical researchers also are making major progress in mitigating the potential impact some cancer treatment can have on the heart.  

While the vast majority of cancer patients will not develop treatment-related heart problems, it is important for patients and survivors to maintain heart-healthy habits as heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.   

To help patients make informed decisions, a wealth of information is available about cardiac risks associated with certain cancer treatments, as well as emerging technologies and solutions.   

How Cancer Treatments Affect the Heart 

In some patients, cancer treatments can present challenges to the heart’s health, including damage to the heart muscle, leading to short- and long-term cardiovascular complications. According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, cancer patients have a higher risk of dying from heart disease and stroke than cancer, with 10% of cancer patients dying from cardiovascular problems. 

Some chemotherapy drugs may disrupt the heart’s normal function, affecting its ability to pump blood efficiently, leading to chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity (CIC). Cardiotoxicity can lead to heart problems including cardiomyopathy, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia, or fluid buildup around the heart.  

Radiation therapy, vital in treating certain cancers, especially those in the chest area, can also affect the heart and its surrounding structures. Radiation-induced heart disease (RIHD), can lead to coronary artery disease, valve problems, or pericardial diseases.

While targeted therapies and immunotherapies aim for precision in attacking cancer cells, some may still have unintended effects on the heart. These treatments can interfere with the heart’s electrical system or weaken the heart muscle, resulting in myocarditis (an inflammation in the heart), arrhythmias, or heart failure. 

How Innovation is Protecting Heart Health 

The ongoing research and integration of innovative cardioprotective strategies offer hope in preserving heart health. As these approaches evolve, the goal remains to provide effective cancer treatment while prioritizing the long-term cardiac well-being of patients. 

  1. Cardioprotective Medications: These medications aim to shield the heart from potential damage caused by chemotherapy agents without compromising the efficacy of cancer therapy.  
  2. Advanced Imaging Techniques: Imaging technologies, such as echocardiograms and cardiac MRIs, aid in early detection of cardiac changes, enabling timely interventions to prevent further complications.
  3. Precision Medicine and Biomarkers: By analyzing the individual genetic makeup and biomarkers of cancer, oncologists can tailor effective treatments that are less harmful to the heart. 
  4. Proton therapy: Treatments like ultra-precise proton therapy limit potential impact outside the targeted tumor, avoiding the heart and lungs. According to a study, proton therapy consistently demonstrates the lowest average dose of radiation to the heart in treatments of the breast, chest wall, and nearby lymph nodes.  

How Lifestyle Changes and Supportive Care Help 

Integrating lifestyle interventions is important when it comes to the heart. Encouraging patients to adopt healthy habits not only supports overall well-being but aids in maintaining heart health during and after cancer treatment. 

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats; limit processed foods and excessive sodium  

  • Exercise or engage in regular physical activity as able 

  • Manage stress through techniques like meditation, journaling, or deep breathing 

  • Steer clear of tobacco and limit alcohol consumption 

When it comes to the heart and cancer treatment, balancing the effectiveness of cancer therapies with the preservation of heart function is essential to improving the long-term cardiovascular health of cancer patients. By understanding potential cardiac risks, preventive measures, and lifestyle modifications, healthcare providers and patients can make informed decisions for matters of the heart.  

James Wilder, M.D., is a radiation oncologist at Texas Oncology–Palestine Cancer Center at 3415 South Loop 256 in Palestine, Texas. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.

This article originally appeared in Palestine Herald-Press.

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