The risk of experiencing heart problems after completing cancer treatment increases for some cancer survivors. These side effects can include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), or even congestive heart failure. Heart conditions can be caused by or made worse from, the use of some chemotherapies, radiation therapy, targeted therapies and/or immunotherapies.
Not everyone who receives cancer treatment has heart problems as a result. Each survivor’s risk for this side effect is impacted by their treatments as well as their heart health and risk for developing heart disease before, during and after cancer treatment. Those who already had heart problems prior to treatment, for example, are typically at a higher risk for developing new or worsening existing conditions, than those who didn't have heart conditions before treatment.
Cancer research is underway to determine how to use echocardiography, electrocardiography, and monitoring for certain biomarkers to help identify potential heart problems in survivors before symptoms even appear.
There are several heart-related issues that can occur as a result of cancer treatment. It’s important for all cancer survivors to receive checkups from their primary care physician to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and overall cardiac health. Often, cancer survivors forget to have these annual check-ups and screenings for other types of cancer. Be sure to add it to your calendar! And don’t be shy to call your doctor or go straight to the ER if you have chest or lung pain, a rapid heartbeat that won’t slow down, leg pain, or a hot spot in your leg which is a symptom of a blood clot.
While some symptoms of heart problems are easily-identifiable, others are not. If you feel that you’re experiencing any of the following you should make an appointment with your primary care physician:
Also, be sure to mention these to your cancer provider team. Since they are familiar with your treatments, they may also have insight into the types of side effects they see in cancer survivors.
Don’t be surprised if you start to experience these symptoms weeks, months or even years after cancer treatment is complete. And be sure to do what you can to help your heart by: