Breast Cancer Therapy and Heart Disease: Attentive Care Prevents Risk

In the largest study of its kind, breast cancer survivors were not found to have a greater mortality risk due to heart disease than the general population.

Although breast cancer therapies have been suggested to elevate the risk of heart disease, effective risk management in hospitals and control screenings at short intervals can prevent long-term risk of mortality associated with heart disease, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) have determined that risk of death from heart disease in patients with breast cancer following radiotherapy or chemotherapy is no higher than among the average population.

In the study, the researchers evaluated data from approximately 350,000 patients from US cancer registries and analyzed cases of women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2011 and who subsequently received treatment by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. To determine whether patients had an increased long-term risk of mortality from heart disease, the researchers compared the data with statistics on the female average population in the United States.

Overall, the researchers found that the risk of mortality from heart disease was not higher following breast cancer treatment than in the average female population. The researchers noted that several factors may contribute to these findings.

Good risk management in hospitals, for example by special cardio-oncology units, take a patient’s individual heart disease risk into account when choosing adequate therapy. Also, controls conducted at short intervals throughout treatment help detect adverse effects on the heart as soon as possible so that adjustments to oncologic therapy can be made.

“At first, we were surprised by this result,” Janick Weberpals, PhD, study author, said a press release. “But we assume that our study paints a more realistic picture of the actual situation of treatment than clinical trials.”

The researchers concluded that the results are promising for the treatment of breast cancer and that, with good care, patients who undergo breast cancer therapy do not need to worry about increased risk of heart disease.

Reference

Weberpals J, Jansen L, Muller OJ, et al. Long-term heart-specific mortality among 347476 breast cancer patients treated with radiotherapy or chemotherapy: a registry-based cohort study. European Heart Journal. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehy167

Breast cancer therapy: All clear for the heart [news release]. DKFZ’s website. http://www.dkfz.de/en/presse/pressemitteilungen/2018/dkfz-pm-18-25-Breast-cancer-therapy-All-clear-for-the-heart.php. Accessed April 10, 2018.