National Breast Cancer Awareness Month educates women about the importance of early detection. More and more women are having mammograms to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. As a result, breast cancer deaths are on the decline. This success is a tribute to early detection campaigns, increased mammogram accessibility, and advancements in cancer therapies. However, with success comes more challenge. Life saving cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can have a lasting effect on your heart often unnoticed until years later.

Collateral Damage

“Several types of chemotherapy can cause damage to the heart muscle, which may weaken the heart (a condition called cardiomyopathy) and result in heart failure. Radiation treatment can further increase this risk,” states Dr. Mikhail Kosiborod, visiting cardiologist to The Heart Health Centre. Chemotherapy for breast cancer uses powerful drugs to target and destroy fast-growing breast cancer cells but in the process can also destroy or damage healthy cells and tissue. Generally, the risk of heart disease associated with chemotherapy drugs increases with the total lifetime amount of the drug you receive. Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses high-powered X-rays to kill cancer cells, and similar to chemotherapy, can also destroy or damage healthy cells and tissues in the process. The heart and sometimes tissues surrounding the breast are exposed to radiation that was intended for cancer cells. Heart damage from radiation has been linked to , weakening of the heart muscle leading to heart failure, coronary artery disease and heart valve problems. More importantly, breast cancer survivors may not develop symptoms until several years after treatment.

Protect Your Heart

Whether you are a current breast cancer patient or a survivor, talk with your doctor about your individual heart risk and specific information on your drug and radiation treatments. Dr. Kosiborod advises, “Early detection of heart damage is critical so steps can be taken to protect the hearts of women, and to allow appropriate modifications in their treatment of breast cancer. Women who received chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment should have their heart function monitored; and if they develop any symptoms suggestive of heart failure (such as shortness of breath, swelling in the legs, marked weakness or fatigue) an evaluation by their physician or cardiologist is warranted”. There have been great advances in breast cancer therapy to minimize heart damage, however preventing and treating negative effects on the heart is essential as cancer survivors are living longer than ever before. Take an active role in monitoring your other cardiac risk factors like blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and weight levels as well as eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Taking steps now will help to minimize cancer therapy induced heart damage in the future.



- Mayo Clinic
Increased CV risk in breast cancer patients examined
Managing heart disease in cancer patients
Understanding Radiation-Induced Vascular Disease Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Heart Failure Society of America