Women Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Are More Likely to Have Abnormal Heart Rhythm


Atrial fibrillation was more common in those not treated with radiation (66.5%) or surgery (23.5%) as first-line treatment compared with 52.3% and 10.4%, respectively.

Women are more likely to develop an abnormal and often rapid heart rhythm in the first year after being diagnosed with breast cancer than women without cancer, according to the results of a study.

“Our study has provided multiple insights. However, the 2 most stark findings are that atrial fibrillation [(AF)] after breast cancer diagnosis increases deaths from heart and blood vessel problems and that cancer severity is a strong risk factor for the development of [AF],” Avirup Guha, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University, said in a statement.

The results show that individuals who developed AF after a breast cancer diagnosis have a 3-fold increased risk of dying from heart of blood vessel problems within 1 year.

AF was more common in women who were not treated with radiation (66.5%) or surgery (23.5%) as first-line treatment compared with 52.3% and 10.4%, respectively. More complicated surgeries, such as mastectomies, were associated with a higher risk than simple procedures such as lumpectomies.

Women who received brachytherapy, in which radioactive seeds are placed in or near the tumor, had half the risk of developing AF than women who received external beam radiation.

Women who had an advance disease at the time of diagnosis had a 15% greater incidence of AF than women who had early-stage disease at 6%.

The rate of AF was highest in the first 60 days after a breast cancer diagnosis, with 0.6% of women developing the condition, and 0.3% developed it ever 30 days thereafter during the 1-year follow-up.

Investigators determined that there was no significantly increased risk of dying from any cause within 1 year of diagnosis in women who already had AF before their diagnosis.

About 85% were still alive after 1 year, while 62% of women who developed AF after a breast cancer diagnosis survived for 1 year.

Women who developed AF after the first 30 days after breast cancer diagnosis were twice as likely to die from any cause within 1 year as women who had AF prior to a breast cancer diagnosis.

Investigators gathered data from the Medicare program, which insures more than 95% of individuals above the aged 65 years in the United States. It was linked to the SEER database, which collects data on cancer for about 35% of the United States population.

The results were adjusted for factors, such as age, obesity, other medical conditions and history, and type of breast cancer.

Limitations included the study population because investigators only looked at women aged 66 years and older.

The findings were published in the European Heart Journal.


Atrial fibrillation and death are more common during the first year after breast cancer diagnosis. EurekAlert. News release. November 14, 2021. Accessed November 16, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/934603

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