Cancer survivors have an increased risk of dying from heart disease, says study

They are at greater risk than the general population

New research has found cancer patients have a higher risk of dying from heart disease.

A study has found that the chance of dying from heart disease and stroke is almost four times higher in the first year after cancer diagnosis – compared to the general population.

It showed more than one in 10 cancer patients die from heart and blood vessel problems – rather than their initial illness.

For those diagnosed with cancer before the age of 55, their risk was ten times higher.

The study was a comprehensive analysis, with researchers looking at three million US patients with 28 different cancers, over the course of 40 years.

Out of the 3.23 million participants, 38% died from cancer and 11% from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) – three quarters of deaths in this latter percentage were from heart disease.

Experts say that cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, could increase the risk of heart disease.

But they also pointed out that lifestyle factors such as smoking, being overweight and drinking (all of which can increase the risk of cancer) could also play a role in heart disease.

Senior woman holding her heart

Credit: Getty

With more people surviving cancer, researchers say more attention needs to be paid to cardiovascular risk. They have also urged doctors to monitor cancer patients more closely, as a result of these findings.

The study found that cancer survivors dying of cardiovascular diseases was highest in those who had previously had diseases of the bladder, larynx, prostate, womb, bowel and breast.

Most deaths from heart disease came from those diagnosed with breast, prostate or bladder cancers – the most common cancers.

In summary, it found cancer survivors with cancer of the breast, larynx, skin, Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid, testes, prostate, endometrium, bladder, vulva, and penis, were as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as their initial cancer.

It concluded that cancer patients were “perpetually at elevated risk”.

Reflecting on the results of the study, Metin Avkiran – an associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation -said, “We need more research to understand why this is, and whether factors other than the known damaging effects of some anti-cancer treatments on the heart and blood vessels are at play.

“What is becoming increasingly clear is that cancer doctors and cardiologists need to work together from an early stage to try and minimise the risk of patients surviving cancer but succumbing to heart and circulatory diseases.”