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Cancer Treatment and its Link to Heart Disease: What You Need to Know

Atlanta, Ga. (October 17, 2017) – Doctors at Piedmont Heart Institute warn that people who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment to the chest may be at increased risk for heart disease.

“Certain chemotherapy agents can affect a person’s heart function, specifically how well the heart pumps blood, while chest radiation therapy can cause the heart to become inflamed or lead to blockages,” said Jyoti Sharma, M.D., director of the women’s heart program at Piedmont.

Dr. Sharma, who received specialized training at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says that in breast cancer patients, exposure of the heart to radiation increases the risk for coronary artery disease and this risk can continue for up to 20 years after treatment.

“There are a lot of factors at play when considering one’s risk for developing heart disease after cancer treatment including the dose of chemotherapy or radiation, the location of the tumor and more,” Dr. Sharma said. “What’s important to note is that as doctors learn more about cancer treatment’s link to heart disease, we have become better at protecting the heart from these harsh treatments.”

While the possibility of developing heart disease after a cancer diagnosis can be frightening, Dr. Sharma stated this should not deter someone from treating cancer. She encourages patients to work with their doctor to reduce risk factors and have regular screenings.

“Depending on the type of cancer treatment, baseline cardiac testing should be done before treatment begins,” Dr. Sharma said. “This way, any reduction in cardiac function can be detected and doctors can work together to ensure the patient’s heart isn’t compromised along their cancer journey.”

For more information on cardio-oncology services at Piedmont, visit piedmont.org.

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