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Cardiac Issues after Cancer

Posted 3/16/2015

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  The good news, the really excellent news, is that many people are living long lives after cancer treatment. The less good news is that the treatment that saved our lives may, at some point, cause some other health problems. It is only fairly recently that much attention has been paid to survivors' treatment-related medical issues. It used to be that either cancer killed you or you were so glad to be alive that nothing else mattered much--and the expectation was that you likely would not live too long anyway. That has changed in many cases.

  It may be helpful here to share with you a saying commonly used by a senior oncologist with whom I work: "If you are born to hang, you aren't going to drown." This is meant to be reassuring, and, for me, it usually is. He does not say this often to his patients, but it is meant to soothe them if they are worrying about health during or after cancer. What living long may do, however, is mean that drowing=medical issues caused by cancer treatment, and that those troubles may be serious.

  Women who received left-sided radiation for breast cancer and others who receive radiation to the full chest have long known that they may be more susceptible to cardiac issues later. We also know that some chemo drugs are cardiac toxic; we are monitored while we receive those drugs, but they may also be a distant problem. This is an article from Forbes about the cardiac issues that my follow a range of cancer treatments for a lot of different cancers. As you read it, remind yourself that the most important thing is/was being treated for cancer, and most people do not go on to experience these problems. It is, however, important to be informed.

Heart Health After Cancer: A Growing Concern
Nearly 15 million people are living after a cancer diagnosis in the United States. This number
represent over 4 percent of the population, an astonishing figure. And a growing one, as reported
last year by the ACS and outlined by the NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship.
As cancer patients survive longer they face additional health problems. Radiation to the chest,
chemotherapy, antibody therapy and hormone changes can affect blood vessels and heart function
in the short term and long, during treatment or years later. But millions affected – and their
physicians – remain insufficiently mindful about the risk of heart disease.
It’s the kind of problem a person who’s had cancer, or a doctor who’s prescribed generally helpful
treatment, may not want to think about.
Years ago, heart complications of cancer treatment didn’t garner so much attention says, Dr. Javid
Moslehi, a cardiologist who leads a program in cardio-oncology at the Vanderbilt University School
of Medicine in Nashville, TN. The emerging field involves cardiologists, oncologists, scientists and
others who study the long-term effects of cancer treatment on the heart.
“In the past, people were just glad to be alive,” he said. “With so many survivors, there’s a growing
need to understand how we can avoid toxic effects of treatment,” he said. “Cardiac issues are
becoming central,” he said.

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