Breast cancer and heart disease share several common risk factors, such as advanced age, poor nutrition, family history, physical inactivity and smoking. The American Heart Association is now warning breast cancer patients and survivors that they are at high risk of developing heart failure and other cardiac problems.
Among older women, it even kills more who have been diagnosed with localized (not advanced) breast cancer: The long-running Women's Health Initiative reported last year that among women in their 70s with localized breast cancer, over a 10-year period 17 percent died from breast cancer and 22 percent from cardiovascular disease.
Mehta adds that this statement does not aim to discourage patients from agreeing to breast cancer therapies but help them make informed decisions regarding the best treatment for them. She further said that during the treatment the patient should not only concentrate on their breast health but also normal health involving the heart.
The AHA notes that not all breast cancer therapies pose heart risks, therefore, it urges women to carefully assess the risks and benefits of any potential treatment they are considering.
About 40,000 women die of breast cancer every year in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Results of a randomized trial of 537 patients newly diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"Ideal breast cancer outcomes are reliant on coexisting cardiovascular health along the entire journey of breast cancer treatment", the AHA panel concluded. She says oncologists and cardiologists need to work together closely to give patients the best chance against both diseases.
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Standard heart medications such as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors may improve heart function in women who develop side effects during treatment, according to the AHA report.
"It's predominantly due to an increasing and ageing population that the number of men dying from the disease is increasing, and we are seeking additional funding support to dramatically reduce deaths".
The anthracycline class of chemotherapeutic drugs can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, which may be benign or potentially life-threatening.
It has been known for years that some breast cancer drugs (including some also used for other cancers) can weaken the heart muscle, causing heart failure. Previous studies have shown that in particular a drug, doxorubicin, widely used in chemotherapies, can cause damage to heart cells.
In many ways, the AHA statement is trying to change the mindset of women diagnosed with breast cancer who consider it the biggest threat to their health.
"But while the rate of people dying from cancer overall is decreasing, the overall number of people developing and dying from cancer in the United Kingdom and worldwide is expected to rise".
And she said that doctors routinely test the tumors of patients to assess the cancer's risk of recurrence.