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Are Breast Cancer Survivors At Risk Of Heart Disease?

Every year, more than 200,000 largely middle-aged and older American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the new and improved therapies that have dramatically reduced the death rates of breast cancer in recent years. In fact, statistics showed that the figures were reduced by nearly a quarter between 1990 and 2000.

However, these live-saving therapies have also introduced heart-damaging effects to the survivors. As such, researchers at the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina urged breast cancer survivors to pay attention for their modifiable risk factors for heart disease in their paper published in October 2007 in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology”.

In the study, they revealed that most therapies on breast cancer, including new treatments still under developed, would increase the long-term risk of heart disease for a woman who went through such therapies. Although the magnitude of the heart risk is still unknown but the researchers are quite sure that it is substantial.

According to the researchers, chemotherapy may damage the heart of as many as a half of patients by diminishing the pumping ability of the heart and increasing the risk of heart failure years later. While radiation therapy can create scarring and tissue damage to the heart and lungs, hormone therapies, such as tamoxifen, that reduce estrogen levels for a long time might also be bad on the heart. Meanwhile experimental therapies, which interfere with the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors can cause abnormal blood clotting, high blood pressure and reduced heart function. Herceptin, a medication often given to women with high-risk genetic profiles, is also toxic to the heart.

There are millions of American women living with breast cancer; therefore, it is paramount that they do not unknowingly waste their second lease on life.

When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they might already have age-related risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. They might also have physically inactive lifestyle and be obese. These two factors are known to link to breast cancer and heart disease.

During breast cancer therapy, many women would reduce their level of physical activity and so they might gain weight. This could jeopardize the treatment as maintaining an active lifestyle is an important in women with breast cancer.

As explained in the study, while exercise could help women feel better during breast cancer treatment, it might also improve blood flow to the tumor so that delivery of cancer drugs to their intended target is enhanced.

Investigation on whether exercise can protect the heart against damaging effects of chemotherapy, for instance, by lowering blood pressure, reducing body weight and strengthening the heart's pumping action has already been set off by researchers. Any evidence that can support that exercise improves tumor outcomes and meanwhile protects the cardiovascular system, would surely be viewed to be a very important finding.




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