Side Effects Of Cancer Treatment On Your Heart

Cancer cases in India and across the globe are on the rise. Treating cancer can be the proverbial double-edged sword. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are amongst the most popular methods used by Heart Hospital in Delhi to treat cancer. However, some conventional chemotherapy drugs increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular problems can also happen with radiation therapy.

Cardiovascular disease that can happen with cancer treatments at Heart Hospital in Delhi include:

  • Cardiomyopathy (Weakening of the heart muscle)
  • Arrhythmia (Heart rhythm problems)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Blood clots (thrombosis)
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle (pericarditis)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Valve disease

Novel or traditional chemotherapy drugs could at times damage the peripheral or heart blood vessels. Some dangerous and life-threatening cardiovascular effects may occur while the cancer is being treated with drugs; others appear after a long time when cancer has become a distant memory.

Cancer therapies that are at a high risk of cardiotoxic side effects include:

  • Chemotherapy (Anthracyclines, cerubidine, doxorubicin, ellence, valstar, idamycin)
  • Breast cancer medication (Trastuzumab)
  • Immunotherapy drugs (Checkpoint inhibitors)
  • High-dose chest radiation
  • Some targeted therapies such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors

Who is at risk for cardio challenges while undergoing cancer treatment?

Generally, people with existing cardiovascular disease at the time they start chemotherapy are at the highest risk. People who are being treated with radiation therapy to the chest are at the risk of cardiovascular disease because of the proximity of the heart to the radiation field.

Some other heart disease risk factors include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • High-fat diet
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Family history of heart disease

How to diagnose heart problems?

Cancer patients must undertake a complete physical and cardiac evaluation before starting a chemo/radiotherapy. The evaluation can help your doctor preempt and identify the risk of cardiotoxicity and help you /your loved ones take preventive measures to minimize the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

  1. Physical exam: The doctor listens to the sound of blood moving through the major vessels in the neck. At this time, the doctor observes the changes in the heartbeat.
  2. Echocardiogram (echo): An electronic sensor and sound waves are used to look at the heart’s function and structure.
  3. Multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan: The scan creates video images of the lower ventricles of the heart that hold blood. This scan checks whether the ventricles are pumping blood properly or not.
  4. Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): With the MRI, magnetic fields are used to produce detailed images of the heart. Before undergoing the MRI, most doctors administer an injection of a contrast medium to create a clearer picture.
  5. Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG): This procedure records the electrical activity of different areas in the heart as wavy lines. This can show heart damage or abnormal heart rhythms.

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, discuss your heart history with your doctors in detail. While undergoing the cancer treatment here are the symptoms of cardiovascular problems that you must be aware of and report to your doctor immediately:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or Light-headedness
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen hands and/or feet

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