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An Unexpected Side Effect of Cancer Treatment: Cardiovascular Disease

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

An unexpected side effect of cancer treatment beginning to be shared in the medical community is the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. As cancer survivors, it is important that we stay informed of all the ways our cancer treatment can impact our bodies. I am sharing this post today on heart disease risk for that reason.

A Side Effect of Cancer Treatment: Cardiovascular Disease

Researchers are identifying a major risk associated with cancer treatment - in the form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This includes most of the common forms of CVD, including high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, myocarditis, and cardiomyopathy among others. It is possible that this risk has existed for quite some time, but it is as of just very recently that scientists are beginning to report on it.

I am thankful for this because I believe this happened to me as a result of my treatment. 18 months after my treatment ended I experienced a major heart incident and had to have a pacemaker placed at the age of 55. At the time medical professionals were not confirming the relationship between cancer treatment and heart disease, but now, a few more years down the road, they finally are. In fact, a sub-specialty of medicine has developed called Cardio-oncology to identify, monitor, and treat heart disease in cancer survivors.

How To Prevent Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease As A Cancer Survivor

Now that the topic of side effects of cancer treatment in regard to CVD is being researched, there is literature describing some precautions that cancer survivors can take in order to reduce their risk of heart disease following treatment.

Some of the precautions are things you may have heard of already to reduce heart disease risk, including following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.

[Related - I recently published this blog post discussing the link between alcohol consumption and alcohol risk]

However, specific to cancer survivors who are at a higher risk, other precautions also include:

  • Keeping your follow-up appointments with your oncology and healthcare teams

  • Getting the recommended cancer screenings

  • Creating a survivorship plan

Creating a survivorship plan that includes nutritional and exercise guidance as well as counseling for your mental well-being is very critical and often underestimated. You can view Body Esteem’s services for survivorship here.

What Can We Do About This Risk?

It is important for cancer survivors, as well as providers, to stay informed and discuss the side effects of cancer treatment openly. Even if the side effects are possibly long-term as the risk of cardiovascular disease can be. If you are currently going through treatment or are a cancer survivor, talk to your doctor about your specific risk of CVD, and share this topic with friends and family too. The more we can spread the word on this, the better.

Looking for Survivorship Support?

As I mentioned earlier in this post, creating a survivorship plan and seeking support is so beneficial to cancer survivors. If you are looking for guidance or someone to talk to, I encourage you to reach out to me!

And for more resources, check out the blog page for additional helpful articles.


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