Cancer & Cardiovascular Disease: Do You Know Your Risk?

Cancer treatments have come a long way in their ability to prolong and improve quality of life for patients. This is obviously positive news, but there is a fly in the ointment: The potential link between cancer treatment and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This is particularly relevant this February as we recognize American Heart Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type, accounting for over 380,000 deaths in 2020[i]. Risk factors for heart disease include the usual suspects: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, excess weight, and a history of smoking. But new research is also revealing a connection between certain types of cancer therapies and the potential for cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure. Such adverse effects may be experienced immediately during treatment but could also take years to present themselves[ii],  highlighting the need for both cancer patients and survivors to focus on protecting their heart health.

Links between specific cancer therapies and certain adverse conditions still require further research, but it’s safe to say that if you’ve been diagnosed with or treated for cancer, your risk of developing heart disease is elevated.

So yes, February is American Heart Month – but clearly, heart health is something that should be a year-round priority for all. Regular blood pressure and cholesterol screenings are a good place to start. If you are at higher risk, a cardiac calcium scoring test or a coronary CT angiogram are two simple ways to check your heart. You can also make smart lifestyle changes to decrease your risk level, including:

  • Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly and staying active
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing stress levels
  • Getting the proper amount of sleep

You only have one heart. Protect it. Take charge of your heart health, this month and every month.


[ii]Heart Problems: Investigating the Cardiac Side Effects of Cancer Treatments, 2018.