Acquiring cancer or heart disease can be a terrifying, and life-threatening experience. But is there a link between the two? If so, could we better understand that connection to help guard against both at the same time?
In this post, you’ll understand more about cancer and heart disease and the relationship between these two types of diseases.
Cardiovascular disease, more commonly known as heart disease, is an umbrella term for various health complications that can affect the heart’s function. These illnesses include:
- Valvular heart disease
- Coronary artery heart disease
- Arrhythmias or heart rhythm disturbances
- Genetic heart infections
These issues complicate the heart’s natural function, causing imbalances that can produce devastating and life-threatening outcomes.
If one of the connected coronary arteries has a blockage, which might be because of plaque or blood clot, an increased risk of a lack of blood supply to the heart occurs. In turn, a piece (or pieces) of the heart muscle may die, causing myocardial infarction and heart attack.
Patients with heart disease may experience symptoms, such as:
- Angina or pain from the heart
- Shortness of breath
- Incessant sweating
- Radiating pain to the arm or jaw
Other signs of heart disease include overwhelming fatigue, weakness, and the inability to perform daily routine tasks, like walking or climbing steps.
Similar to heart disease, cancer is a category for any one of a significant number of conditions. Specifically, cancers are related to the abnormal development of cells. The bodies of cancer patients significantly reduce apoptosis (natural cell death), resulting in tumors that infiltrate and destroy healthy body tissues.
Some symptoms of cancer include:
- Lump under the skin
- Unexplained weight changes
- Constant fatigue
- Persistent indigestion
The human body can acquire cancer from different sources. Note that this complication comes from the changes or mutations of cell DNA. These mutations can occur over time from environmental factors, or from genetic predisposition.
Some people will have genetic mutations from the time of birth, but genetic DNA mutations may only account for a small number of cancer patients. Conversely, cancer-causing cell alterations that occur after birth are significantly more common.
Activities like smoking and lack of exercise can increase your odds of developing cancer. It can happen gradually, which means that cancer may only appear after years of doing these harmful activities. Fortunately, this also means that individuals can inhibit the growth of cancer cells by limiting or stopping these poor behaviors before the condition worsens.
Link Between Cancer And Heart Disease
People at risk of developing heart diseases may also be at a high risk for cancer. A study from the American Heart Association notes that both health complications have intimate links.
Researchers observed over 12,000 participants who hadn’t developed cancer or cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study over the course of 15 years. At the end of the study, the researchers found that over 1,600 participants have cancer.
Furthermore, the results of the study found that:
- Cardiovascular risk factors, such as age, high blood pressure, sex, and smoking activity, have independent associations with cancer.
- Subjects who developed heart disease within the study period had a significant increase in risk for a specific cancer type.
Both cancer and heart disease share several of the same risk factors. Some of these elements include poor nutrition, tobacco use, and lack of physical activity. Other risk factors shared by these two health complications include:
Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs when the heart pumps at a higher rate than average. In turn, the additional stress can lead to the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), kidney disease, stroke, and heart failure. Although hypertension tends to have a closer association with heart disease, it may also aggravate cancer symptoms. Consequently, cancer in patients with heart disease may experience an increased risk of hypertension.
Patients with diabetes may be at increased risk of contracting heart disease, particularly heart failure. Similarly, patients with heart disease may be at a high risk of developing diabetes. The presence of diabetes may also provide an increased risk of cancer, as it can aggravate complications such as inflammation and oxidative stress while damaging insulin signaling in the body.
Obese patients are at greater risk of developing heart disease than people who maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can also increase the likelihood of a person developing cancer. This is because the body will be in a state of chronic and low-level inflammation. In turn, this inflammation can cause DNA damage, which increases the likelihood of malignant cell mutations.
Tobacco consumption through smoking is a well-known risk factor for both heart disease and cancer. Habitual smokers who don’t reduce or quit the harmful habit may have an increased risk of acquiring lung and bladder cancer. Moreover, the development of cancer cells plus the restriction of the respiratory pathways due to smoking can contribute to heart disease.
Cancer patients might be at a higher risk of dying because of heart disease than other health complications. As per research from the European Society of Cardiology, over one in ten cancer patients don’t die from cancer itself. Instead, the patients pass away because of heart and blood vessel problems.
Cancer treatment procedures, particularly chemotherapy, can put patients at increased risk of acquiring heart disorders, due to the indiscriminate way in which the chemicals kill cells, both healthy and cancerous.
The body becomes susceptible to infections and other illnesses while it heals from cancer. Thus, patients undergoing cancer treatment should pay extra attention to their overall health and risk factors, as their bodies become more vulnerable to heart and blood complications than average.
Although people undergoing cancer treatments can be susceptible to heart disease, the reverse may be true as well. Heart disease patients may also be at a high risk of developing cancer due to the consumption of distinct medications. Patients with heart-related illnesses should be wary about consuming the following cardiovascular drugs:
Diuretics, particularly those containing hydrochlorothiazide, can enhance skin photosensitivity. It means that the skin becomes more vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Thus, patients consuming diuretic drugs might become susceptible to skin cancer.
Several doctors prescribe statin drugs to heart disease patients. It’s because these medications reduce heart-related mortality and morbidity. But, the continuous consumption of statins may influence the increase of cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of developing cancer.
Aspirin intake can be one of the first acts for heart disease prevention. But, high doses of this drug may instigate the cancer cell growth in the body. Patients should stay at a low aspirin dose (unless otherwise prescribed by their doctor) to maintain a low risk of cancer development.
Aside from these medicines, medical radiation for heart disease can also contribute to the development of a lifetime of risk for cancer cell growth. Raised awareness should exist in patients, particularly younger ones, as well as individuals undergoing high-dose radiation procedures.
Cancer patients facing heart-related problems caused by cancer treatments may opt for a cardio-oncology program.
Cardio-oncology is a set of procedures to help prevent or treat cancer patients with heart problems. While under this program, patients can acquire the medical services of cancer doctors (oncologists), cardiologists, and several researchers.
The program consists of approaches, like:
- Team-based care, and
- Techniques used to reduce cardiac side effects of radiation therapy
Health facilities with cardio-oncology programs may also use powerful heart-monitoring tools, which may include:
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- 3-D echocardiography
- Novel biomarkers
- Endomyocardial biopsy
- Heart artery calcium CT assessment
Benefits Of Cardio-Oncology
Patients who receive care as part of a cardio-oncology program may reap distinct benefits. These advantages address the different effects of cancer treatments on the heart.
Some of these benefits include:
- Pre-screening for potential cardiotoxic treatments
- Careful monitoring for patients undergoing molecular targeted treatments
- Follow-up screening for cancer survivors
- Possible treatment procedures for heart conditions developed from cancer treatments
- Safe shepherding to patients with pre-existing heart concerns that develop cancer
Aside from cardio-oncology, lifestyle changes can also contribute to the reduction of heart disease and cancer-related symptoms. For example, eliminating daily tobacco use can help reduce the risks of heart disease and some cancer types.
Cancer and heart disease have several links. One health complication may affect the other directly or indirectly. Patients should always be under the supervision of their doctors during treatment procedures to reduce the risks of aggravating heart or cell-related issues.
Understanding these problems may also improve a person’s chances of surviving both disorders. Furthermore, medical professionals can benefit their patients by being aware of these links, and staying prepared for a cardiac emergency by maintaining their life support certifications through a reputable institution like the American Medical Resource Institute.