Do you ever feel like you’re just stuck between a rock and a hard spot? That you’re @#($*& if you do and !)#(*$& if you don’t?
I think that if we admit I, all of us have been there at one time or another in our life. Sometimes, life just simply does not play fair.
I recently came across a tidbit of information that just seems to fall into this category. It’s just, well, to be frank, simply unfair. What was this information? I found out that some chemotherapy can increase the risk of heart disease. Can you believe that? Isn’t it enough that someone has to deal with cancer? To have the additional worry that your cancer treatment might hurt your heart, just seems to add insult on top of injury.
Heart disease is referred to as one of the “late side effects” of chemotherapy. It’s called “late” because the symptoms of the heart damage or disease may not present themselves for months or in some cases, until years after the chemotherapy is completed. According to the Mayo clinic, several chemo drugs appear to increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk of heart attack during an infusion is greater as well as the risk of developing cardiomyopathy. (Cardiomyopathy is a weakness in the heart muscle.) In addition, some of the newer cancer treatments such as Herceptin (used in the treatment of breast cancer) have been linked to heart damage.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center conducted a study of 5,836 cancer survivors. In the study, they tracked the top four health problems reported by cancer survivors. While not the number one reported health concern, heart disease was reported by all study participants. The breakdown of heart disease by cancer type is as follows:
• Acute Leukemia: 10.3%
• Breast: 15.3%
• Chronic Leukemia: 15%
• Colorectal: 15%
• Gastrointestinal (Colorectal, Esophageal, Liver, Pancreatic, Stomach): 19%
• Genitourinary (Bladder, Kidney, Penile, Prostate, Testicular): 17%
• Gynecologic (Cervical, Endometrial [Uterine], Fallopian Tube, Ovarian, Vulvar: 13%
• Head & Neck: 14%
• Hodgkin's Disease: 26%
• Lung: 18%
• Lymphoma: 18%
• Melanoma: 12%
• Sarcoma (Bone, Soft Tissue): 18%
• Thyroid: 13%
(For a list of the top four reported symptoms, please see the MD Anderson link under sources below.)
As I read this information, I was immediately reminded of my grandfather. He had lung cancer and died when I was a young girl. No one ever talked about it and I always assumed that he died of cancer. It wasn’t until I began researching my own risk factors for heart disease that I found out that he didn’t die of lung cancer. He died of a heart attack while undergoing chemotherapy. After reading this article, I had to wonder if chemotherapy was a contributing factor to his fatal heart attack. What would have happened if he’d had this knowledge? Would he have made different choices in treatment for the cancer if he’d known that chemotherapy was putting him at a greater risk for heart disease? Would he have approached his cancer treatment differently? Would he have made lifestyle choices that might have decreased his overall risk of death? I’ll never know the answer to these questions because that moment in time has long since passed. The simple fact is that he didn’t know and in all likelihood, his doctor probably didn’t know either.
You are I are in a different place today. You, my sisters, now have knowledge and knowledge is empowering. Because you have knowledge, you can make a better decision not only for your current treatment, but for your long term heart health as well. If you are undergoing or about to start chemotherapy, talk to your doctor. Ask him if the drugs you are taking will increase your overall risk of heart disease. Do you have a preexisting heart condition or risk factors for heart disease? How will chemotherapy impact those risk factors and your heart health? I would never, ever downplay the seriousness of cancer. Yet, we need to remember that heart disease kills more women than cancer. That’s a fact which we’re trying to change. You owe it to yourself to ask these questions. Your doctor owes it to you to not only come up with a treatment plan for cancer, but for your future continued good health, including your heart health.
Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart.
(Disclaimer: I am not a physician and nothing in this article should be construed as giving medical advice. As with any medical decision, please consult your physician.)
Timothy Moynihan, MD, Can Chemotherapy Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?, http://mayoclinic.com/health/chemotherapy-side-effects/AN01407
Survivorship, Physical Impacts by Disease Site, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/cancer-information/cancer-topics/survivorship/physical-impacts-by-disease-site/index.html
Lauran Neergaard, Chemotherapy boosts heart disease risk, USA Today, 08 Oct 2007, http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-10-08-1061310279_x.htm