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Cancer’s connection to heart disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world (and Cass County). Cancer comes in as a close second.

Given the growing number of people affected by cancer and heart disease, it may not be too surprising to find out the two are often interconnected.

having had cancer increases your chance of getting heart disease

Doctors have long known that heart disease is a significant risk factor for those cancer survivors who are over age 60, overweight, have diabetes, or are suffering from high blood pressure or high cholesterol. But, in 2018, researchers discovered that cancer survivors of all stripes have a greater risk than people who never battled cancer: “People who had been treated for cancer had more than twice the risk of developing heart failure than those who had never had cancer” as a side effect of radiation and drugs that used as part of cancer treatment.

These researchers found, for example, that people with breast cancer were three times more likely to experience heart failure within five years of their cancer diagnosis than people without cancer.

Until the medical community finds effective ways to treat cancer patients without harming their hearts, cancer survivors should take steps to identify symptoms of heart problems as soon as possible and take steps to reduce their increased risk of getting heart disease by making lifestyle changes.

Common signs of heart disease to watch out for

Unfortunately, not all heart problems come with big warning signs. That’s one reason why doctors recommend that cancer survivors be extra vigilant by monitoring their well-being and keeping an eye out for these common symptoms of heart disease and heart failure:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and indigestion
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Throat or jaw pain
  • Chronic fatigue

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor can help you figure out what’s going on, make a diagnosis, and help you start feeling better. Be proactive and request an appointment with your provider to get any signs checked out to figure out if they’re heart-related.

If your symptoms are severe and you’re having a medical emergency, go to the nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Seven ways to protect yourself from heart disease

Many of the same healthy lifestyle changes that doctors recommend as preventative measures for lowering the risk of heart disease will also reduce your chance of developing cancer.

Here are seven small changes you can make—today—to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure:

  1. Get active: Regular, low doses of physical activity add up. If you aren’t used to getting daily exercise, start slowly and make it a goal work up to 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day. Even walking counts! Something is better than nothing at all.
  2. Adopt a healthy diet: Use food as medicine. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoid foods loaded with saturated and trans fats and those with added sugars and salt.
  3. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke: No matter your age, your heart health will improve within a few weeks once you quit smoking. You also will start to breathe better and cough less.
  4. Stay at a healthy weight: If you’re overweight, working to lose even 10 pounds will reduce your risk of heart disease and help improve your blood pressure.
  5. Get enough good sleep: Not getting plenty of rest causes many problems, including increasing your blood pressure. If you’re unsure why you’re having trouble sleeping, read our guide on how to get a good night’s rest and learn about treatment options, including convenient at-home sleep studies.
  6. Find ways to cope with chronic stress: Constant stress and anxiety increase your blood pressure and damage your heart. Managing your stress is not only a good idea for your heart, but it will improve your overall health, too.
  7. See your doctor: Take an active role in your wellness. Reduce your risk of heart disease by working with your doctor to create a plan and start building better health. Need a provider? Search our directory to find a specialist or doctor. Already a patient? Log into the patient portal.

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TOPICS: Heart care, Cancer care
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