Importance of heart health during cancer treatment

ByEugene Storozynsky, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Oncology
Tuesday, February 8, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- February is "Go Red for Women" month - when we're reminded that preventable heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among women in the U.S.

Causes of preventable heart disease include heart artery blockages being mistaken for other non-life-threatening conditions; untreated high blood pressure that can lead to heart failure, stroke and kidney failure; and irregular heart rhythms, which can lead to heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death.

These conditions are important to diagnose and treat early, in order to achieve better outcomes.

Cancer remains the No. 2 cause of death among women in the U.S.

With more women surviving their breast, ovarian, colon, lung, and kidney cancers, researchers are finding that cancer treatments may be associated with side effects leading to preventable heart disease.

Cardio-Oncology is a novel field that identifies and manages a patient's risk for heart disease related to their cancer treatment thru the use of the most up-to-date testing available and knowledge of how cancer treatment may impact heart disease. The goal is to identify and treat those who may be at risk sooner, in order to reduce long-term complications.

One of the common side effects of chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy -- numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. It is believed that peripheral neuropathy is due to the direct toxicity of the cancer treatment on nerve endings in the fingers and toes.

In a recent study, patients with peripheral neuropathy appear to develop inappropriate tachycardia leading to a higher risk of heart disease.

The exact reason is unclear but research may one day show that there is a direct relationship between chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and inappropriate tachycardia leading to heart dysfunction, which if acted upon once numbness and tingling occur with appropriate heart treatments, heart disease due to inappropriate tachycardia in the cancer patient may be preventable.

Specialists in Cardio-Oncology, like those at Jefferson Health, offer patients a variety of options to identify early warning signs of potential heart disease from chemotherapy by applying cutting-edge technology in the monitoring and management of cancer patients together with their oncologists.

Throughout February - and preferably the entire year - it is important for all women, especially those at increased risk of preventable heart disease, to know their numbers-blood pressure, heart rate, weight, cholesterol levels and amount of daily exercise.

It's crucial to do this to defeat the two leading causes of death among women - heart disease and cancer.

If you or a loved one has questions about cardiovascular care during or after cancer treatment, the Cardio-Oncology Specialists at Jefferson Health can help. Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW for an appointment or visit JeffersonHealth.org/Heart for more information.