Cancer Survivors Need to Love Their Hearts

Cardiovascular disease high among cancer survivors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Here’s an unhappy, but avoidable, bit of information: women with early stage breast cancer may be more likely to die of heart disease than they are of cancer. Recent research looked at the cancer and heart disease link.

Cardiovascular health is often overlooked in folks who are living beyond a cancer diagnosis. A new study has found that cancer survivors may have worse heart disease risks than the general population.

The findings of this study demonstrate why it is important for both physicians and survivors to pay attention to cardiovascular health as part of overall survivorship health.

"If you’ve had cancer, take good care of your heart."

Cancer shares many of the same risk factors as heart disease, including smoking, obesity and exercise. The study authors noted that some cancer treatments can also increase heart disease risks.

Kathryn E. Weaver, PhD, assistant professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, and colleagues surveyed survivors of breast, prostate, colorectal and gynecologic cancers to learn why heart disease is so prevalent among cancer survivors.

“As part of good survivorship health, it’s going to be increasingly important for healthcare providers to assess and address cardiovascular risk in cancer survivors,” Dr. Weaver said in a press release announcing the study findings.

Sarah A. Samaan, MD, FACC, a board certified cardiologist at Legacy Heart Center in Plano, TX, told dailyRx News, “Although the link between smoking and lung cancer is well known, most people are unaware that lifestyle choices that raise the risk for heart disease may also increase the likelihood of developing many other forms of cancer. Breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer have all been linked to diet and obesity," Dr. Samaan said.

For the study, researchers sent surveys to 1,582 individuals who were four to 14 years beyond their cancer diagnosis.

Survey questions related to smoking history, body mass index (a ration of height to weight used to determine healthy weight), physical activity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Based on survey responses, researchers found the following:

  • 62 percent of the survivors were overweight or obese.
  • 55 percent reported having hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • 21 percent of the individuals were living with diabetes.
  • 18 percent were inactive.
  • 5 percent said they currently smoked tobacco.
  • Nearly 33 percent of the survivors said they did not have health promotion discussions with their doctors.

Hispanics and African Americans had more cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors than white cancer survivors, especially obesity and diabetes.

“CVD risk factors are common among long-term survivors, but many at-risk survivors may not discuss lifestyle prevention with their healthcare team. Primary care and oncology should work together to deliver optimal survivorship care that addresses CVD risk factors, as well as prevalent disease,” the authors concluded.

“Our message is that cardiovascular disease risk should be assessed as part of a comprehensive survivorship care plan because of the risk for both poor heart disease and cancer outcomes,” Dr. Weaver said.

“Simple lifestyle changes including following a Mediterranean diet, avoiding tobacco smoke (including secondhand smoke), exercising, and maintaining a healthy body weight will help protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even dementia," said Dr. Samaan, who is author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After it Starts.

Findings from this study were published in the April issue of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 24, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013