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Improving Heart Health after Cancer

Friday, June 21, 2019 7:00 AM

Treatment used to beat cancer takes a toll on the body. Most of us know that, but most of us are unaware of the side effects of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation are powerful treatment options, but they may increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease according to Amit Pursnani, MD, Cardiology at NorthShore.


Radiation can increase the risk for heart attacks, heart failure and arrhythmias in patients. Certain chemotherapy agents (in particular anthracyclines and trastuzamab) can increase the risk of developing heart failure.  Other chemotherapy drugs can increase risk for damaging peripheral blood vessels and may cause clotting. Patients should become aware of the signs of congestive heart failure and contact their doctor if the following symptoms are noticed:

  • Swelling or puffiness in the hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or lying flat
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dry cough

Fortunately, the risk is low for heart complications post-treatment and testing is continuously done during treatment to watch for any signs of heart problems. Dr. Pursnani recommends these actions for both cancer and non-cancer patients to take to help keep their heart healthier:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases risk for heart disease by 25-30%.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet. A diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and less salt, red meat.
  • Reduce bad cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol should be below 100.
  • Lower high blood pressure. A normal blood pressure should be close to 120/80.
  • Get active! Strive for 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. Talk with your physician on how to get to or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce stress. Stress is hard on the heart; take a few minutes to banish stress each day.

Patients should follow up with his or her physician after treatments to check on their heart and discover more ways to live a heart-healthy life.