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World Cancer Day: Everything you should know about cancer and the heart

World cancer day is on the 4th February. Despite the rapid advances in cancer detection and treatment, 9.8 million people around the world die from the disease each year. Although we don’t think of cancer and heart disease together, there is an important relationship. We are only just beginning to understand this and the impact, particularly of cancer treatments, on the heart and the health implications of this for patients. As a result, cardio-oncology has become a rapidly emerging speciality to treat this kind of complication.

How does cancer affect the heart?

While it is possible to be diagnosed with rare primary heart cancer, the most common association between cancer and the heart is when a malignant tumour metastasises to the heart particularly to the lining of the heart (pericardium) resulting in a build-up of fluid. This means that a primary cancer moves from its original site to this secondary location. Many different forms of cancer can spread in this manner such as breast cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer or blood tumours such as leukaemia or lymphoma.

How can carcinoids damage the heart?

In addition to cases of metastasised cancer, the heart can also be affected by tumours known as carcinoids. Carcinoid tumours are rare and can be malignant. They can secrete hormones such as serotonin, which causes the heart valves on the right side of the body to become disfigured by tissue build up. These valves are an essential component of a well-functioning heart and may require surgery to correct if there is significant involvement.

Chemotherapy and the heart?

One of the biggest areas of scientific research focused on cancer and its effect on the heart lies in assessing the impact of oncology drugs – referred to as chemotherapy – on the body’s cardiac system. If a patient has a pre-existing heart problem, it’s essential that the oncology consultant takes this into account. Several chemotherapy drugs are known to induce cardiotoxicity, which means that your heart function can become impaired, and sometimes this damage can be sustained. These complications have been observed in patients taking general chemotherapy drugs, as well as ones that were formulated for specific cancers. As a result, it’s imperative that your specialist considers these effects in advance, and monitors you thoroughly both during and after treatment.

How can a cardio-oncologist help?

Patients who are affected by cancer of the heart, or those with long-term cardiac problems and cancer, will benefit from the expertise afforded by a specialist in cardio-oncology. This emerging subspecialty is specifically tailored to improve outcomes for patients where cancer is affecting their heart. Not only will a specialist in this area be able to diagnose you quickly, but they will be able to ensure that the appropriate oncological approach – whether chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone treatments – is selected to maintain heart function and reduce further cardiac damage. At One Heart Clinic, we have a dedicated specialist in cardio-oncology, Dr Tom Crake, who can ensure that your treatment plan takes into consideration your specific heart concerns. For more details or to book a consultation, contact us today on +44 (0)20 3303 0249 or use our online form.