How Heart Disease May Be Linked To Cancer

Image of heart

March 22, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
David Silber, D.O
L. Steven Zukerman, M.D.

Heart disease and cancer – the top two causes of death in America – may seem very different, but they have more in common than you might think.

Certain lifestyle habits may increase your risk of both cancer and heart disease, and some research has shown that heart disease may increase your risk of developing cancer. (The risk is even higher among people who have had heart attacks or are diagnosed with heart failure.)

“When researchers followed more than 12,000 patients without heart disease for a nearly 15-year period, they discovered that people with risk factors which made them more likely to develop heart disease over a ten-year period were three times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer during the 15-year study, and people who had heart attacks were seven times more likely to get cancer,” says David Silber, D.O., FACC, a cardiologist and cardio-oncology expert at Hackensack University Medical Center. “However, the research was observational, not one that definitively proves cause and effect.”

Heart disease may cause inflammation in the body and changes in hormone levels, both of which may increase the risk of cancer. More research is needed to determine whether factors like these make it more likely for cancer to develop once heart disease is established or if such factors simply increase the risk of both heart disease and cancer.

Overlapping Risk Factors

For years, doctors have known that some lifestyle habits may increase your chances of developing both heart disease and certain types of cancer. They are:

  • Poor nutrition habits
  • Sedentary lifestyle or lack of exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking

Lower Your Risk

Lowering your risk of heart disease – and delaying or preventing a heart attack – may not only keep your heart healthy, it may help you lower your risk of cancer.

You aren’t able to change some risk factors of heart disease or cancer, including your age, race or sex, as well as your personal and family medical history. However, taking steps to change certain lifestyle habits may help you to lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

For better health, try to adopt habits like these:

  • Eat a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein
  • Exercise regularly (if exercise is new to you, try walking for at least 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes daily)
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight (body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher)
  • Quit smoking

Specialized care for cancer patients

If you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to consider your heart health. A possible side effect of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, is that they may cause damage to the heart as they eradicate cancer.

After you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, health care providers within Hackensack Meridian Health’s Cardio-Oncology Program can closely monitor your heart health during and after your cancer treatments, checking for treatment-related side effects. The program also helps patients with heart disease whose symptoms may be related to a previous cancer diagnosis.

Doctors within the Cardio-Oncology Program work to maximize your heart health while working with your cancer-care team to fight the cancer. The cardiologists and other specialists work to prevent, stop or reverse cancer-related heart damage in patients.

“We have your overall health in mind, including your heart health,” says L. Steven Zukerman, M.D., FACC, a cardiologist and cardio-oncology expert at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “Keeping tabs on your heart health through chemotherapy and other cancer treatments helps contribute to better outcomes.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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