Cardiotoxicity: Cancer Treatment & the Heart

Cardiotoxicity: Cancer Treatment & the Heart

Advances in cancer treatment over the past 30 years have led to increased cancer survival and larger numbers of people living cancer-free for many years after treatment.

These life-saving treatments, while successful at treating cancer, can sometimes cause problems in the heart and vascular (circulation) system - called cardiotoxicity.

Cardiotoxicity can develop during cancer treatment - or - can occur within days or months or years after cancer treatment, once patients are cancer-free. Heart damage caused by chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity can reduce quality of life and increase the risk of death from cardiac-related causes.

Do all types of cancer treatment can cause cardiotoxicity?

No. Not all types of cancer treatment can cause cardiotoxicity, but many have the potential for causing cardiac damage, including:

  • Chemotherapy with certain drugs
  • Radiation therapy to the chest area
  • Targeted therapy (molecular therapy)
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Drugs used to prevent cancer recurrence

What types of heart problems can be caused by cancer treatments?

Cancer treatment can cause the heart to pump less efficiently, cause changes in blood flow and/or increase the risk for blood clots (thrombosis) that can cause heart attack.

The most common heart conditions caused by these changes are congestive heart failure – the most serious cardiotoxicity related to cancer treatment – inflammation of the heart muscle (pericarditis) and coronary artery disease. Other heart problems that can be caused by cancer treatment include low blood pressure (hypotension), high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) and valve disease.