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September 2022

The Hidden Health Risk for Cancer Survivors

Scientists have made significant progress in the fight against cancer. Now more than 18 million Americans have successfully survived treatment.

If you’re among them, you likely fear your disease will return. But there’s another health risk you should learn about: heart disease. After cancer itself, cardiovascular conditions take the blame for more deaths among cancer survivors than any other condition.

Fortunately, some of the same choices protect you against both the return of your cancer and heart problems. Here’s what you need to know.

Take cancer treatment to heart

Overall, heart disease ranks as America’s number one killer. But cancer survivors face an even greater danger. Why? Certain risk factors for cancer—including smoking, obesity and age —also increase your odds of developing heart disease.

What’s more, treatments for cancer can harm your heart health. This includes

  1. Radiation. Treating breast, lung, or other types of cancer with radiation to the chest may expose the heart as well.

  2. Medicine. Some chemotherapy drugs may increase the risk for cardiovascular conditions later on.

  3. Surgery. Reproductive organs—such as the testicles or ovaries—may be removed to treat or prevent cancer as a form of hormone therapy. This can increase the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.


Survivors’ smart steps

Make sure all your healthcare providers know about your history with cancer, especially if it occurred long ago. You can create a survivorship care plan to learn how to better take care of your body.

You can also make choices every day that protect your heart and the rest of your body:

  • Exercise. Try to move for about 30 minutes most days. Ask your provider for exercise recommendations based on your needs.

  • Eat right. Aim for a diet plentiful in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Try to limit amounts of fat, red and processed meat, and sugar.

  • Quit smoking. Cigarettes are harmful and increase your risk of getting cancer again, either in the same part of your body or another one.

Life after cancer

Download a complete guide to managing life after cancer treatment from the National Cancer Institute.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2022
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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