Published: Mon, February 05, 2018
Medical | By Jackie Banks

Interactive tool 'boosts knowledge of breast cancer treatment options'

Interactive tool 'boosts knowledge of breast cancer treatment options'

There's a new warning about the connection between breast cancer and the leading killer of women: heart disease. Yet when such a patient ends up in the hospital, he said, doctors tend to look for signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, while overlooking breast cancer treatment as a possible culprit.

For example, some cancer treatments, such as HER-2 targeted therapies, can weaken heart muscle, a condition known as heart failure.

However, they are more likely to be killed by heart disease, even if they are breast cancer survivors, and especially if they are at least 65 years old, she said. Over half of cancers fall within the "big four" categories: breast, prostate, lung and bowel. "The report may bring this problem to the front of mind among emergency medicine and internal medicine doctors who are caring for these women", he said.

"However, the good news is that many of these developments could be applied to prostate cancer and we're confident that with the right funding, we can dramatically reduce deaths within the next decade", Culhane said.

Women with breast cancer typically get some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, depending on the stage of their cancer.

Some heart effects, such as those from chest radiation, may not show up until years later.

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Other treatments, such as radiotherapy, can damage the arteries of the heart, causing coronary heart disease and blockage in the bloodstream. But women may benefit from a new approach to treatment that weighs the benefits of specific therapies against potential damage to the heart. Heart failure and left ventricular dysfunction can be adverse effects of both drugs. Herceptin studies have found a heart failure incidence of up to 4 percent, for instance.

"Adriamycin-induced congestive heart failure symptoms can show up three to five years after treatment and easily be missed by an internist or ER doctor who does not see a lot of these patients", he said.

However, experts don't encourage breast cancer patients to refuse recommended treatment.

Furthermore, women who have had breast cancer are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women without a history of breast cancer.

The American Heart Association's statement is "long overdue", said Dr. Lewis Kuller, a professor and past chair of the department of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, who was not involved in the statement. According to the AHA, careful documentation may help women find ways to at least minimize, if not avoid altogether, risks of heart disease as a side effect of breast cancer treatments. Live Science says when the prostate cancer appears in younger men it can be much more aggressive. "If you compare to 10, 20 years ago, survival rates are generally getting better, that is certainly the case for both prostate and breast [cancer]".

“I always refer to it as my little broken heart, ” she said.

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