Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. No matter what type of cancer a person may suffer from, serious medical treatment may be essential for surviving cancer. Doctors use treatments like surgical removal of cancerous tissue and chemotherapy to eliminate cancer cells and help restore the patient’s health.
However, many people are concerned that cancer treatments like chemotherapy have too many side effects. One such concern is that it may contribute to heart disease. For many people, heart disease risk may already be high. Obese people, smokers, and those with a significant family history of heart disease may be concerned that chemotherapy can make their heart health suffer even more. Does this mean that chemotherapy isn’t worth the damage it does to your body? What does chemotherapy actually do, including its positive and negative effects?
Chemotherapy is the use of powerful medicine to attack cancerous areas of the body. Chemicals are injected into your veins, similar to when you receive an IV, and cycle through the body, attacking fast-growing cancer cells. There are different types of drugs used to perform chemotherapy. This is one of the most common and effective forms of cancer treatment, especially when treating very aggressive cancers.
Chemotherapy side effects are well-known and documented. Chemotherapy drugs are very powerful and can damage healthy areas of the body alongside cancer cells. One effect, sadly, includes potential damage to your cardiovascular system: the heart and blood vessels.
Chemotherapy can put stress on the heart and weaken its muscle, a condition known as cardiomyopathy. Chemotherapy has also been linked to conditions like blood clots, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat rhythm. Side effects can be hard to predict, as they vary based on the chemotherapy drug you use and your prior heart health.
Thankfully, doctors are aware of these problems and will likely perform heart function testing before they start you or your loved one on chemotherapy treatment. Oncologists, or cancer doctors, often work hand-in-hand with cardiologists, or heart doctors, to monitor cancer patients and ensure that treating their chemotherapy treatments don’t cause too much damage to the cardiovascular system. In addition, after a person survives cancer they may be monitored for future heart problems like blood clots.
Sadly, chemotherapy is not for everyone. For some, including elderly people, chemotherapy may be too intense for the body to endure. When developing a cancer treatment plan, doctors often have to weigh difficult options with a patient and their families. However, while there are other ways to treat cancer, including radiation and surgery treatments, chemotherapy is often the best way to reduce aggressive cancer cells in the body.
Ultimately, there are no fool-proof, side-effect-free alternatives to chemotherapy and it is often the best option to eliminate cancer. However, if you or a loved one have been offered chemotherapy to treat cancer, doctors will do their best to brief you on all of the side effects of the process. Unfortunately for some people, this includes compromising heart health.
In the future, there will hopefully be a 100% safe alternative to chemotherapy that doesn’t cause any stress on the body, particularly the heart. But please know that refusing chemotherapy as a cancer treatment can be extremely dangerous. What’s most important to know, though, is that every patient, cancer, and treatment plan will be different. Great doctors, like the team at BASS Cancer Center, will work their hardest to ensure you or your loved one only receive the safest, most effective treatment for cancer. Contact our oncology team at (925) 433-8786 to learn more about our cancer treatment options and how we can help take care of you or someone you love.