Certain types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the chest, can result in a higher probability of you developing heart (or cardiovascular) disease or experiencing a stroke. Other heart problems can include the swelling of the heart muscle and problems with your heart’s ability to pump blood (also known as congestive heart failure). The risk of heart issues may increase if you:
- Are 65 years or older
- Have high cholesterol
- Have high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
- Have a family history of heart issues
You may have already been informed of the risk of heart problems before starting certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Tests may have already been done prior to treatment to ensure that your heart is healthy enough to begin treatment. Some chemotherapy has been known to weaken the heart muscle, while radiation therapy in the area of the heart, may harden arteries, weaken blood vessels, and cause problems with blood supply to the heart muscle or brain.
Even before you begin to have signs or symptoms of heart disease and/or stroke, if you are at risk, your doctor may recommend various screening tests such as regular electrocardiograms (also known as EKG or ECG) and echocardiograms (also known as ECHO). Although most of these issues may arise more than a decade after treatment, it is important to discuss your risks and the type of monitoring plan you will undergo with your doctor. As always, if you begin to have chest pain, you should seek medical attention immediately.
You can decrease your risk of developing heart disease or experiencing a stroke by trying to lead a healthy lifestyle.