What are heart problems?
Heart problems are uncommon but serious side effects of some cancer treatments. The term “cardiac toxicity” refers to these side effects. It can:
- affect treatment
- lower a person’s quality of life
- cause death, rarely
Only certain cancer treatments (anthracyclines chemotherapy drugs) are linked with heart problems. And there are ways to prevent or manage these side effects.
How bad are my heart problems?
Mild: Typical symptoms aren’t present during regular activity. In some cases you may experience palpitation, fatigue and shortness of breath while being quite active.
Moderate: You may notice symptoms (shortness of breath and palpitation) on mild physical activities. It may limit your age-appropriate instrumental activities of daily life (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone).
Severe: You may experience symptoms (shortness of breath and palpitation) while sitting or resting or on minimal or no physical activities. It may limit your self-care activities of daily life (eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet). It requires immediate treatment under your doctor’s supervision.
How to manage mild to moderate heart problems?
If you already have a heart problem before the start of cancer treatment, you can follow below tips.
- Try deep breath holding to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure to the heart. It involves taking a deep breath and holding it for short periods while the radiation is given.
- Reduce radiation therapy to the heart using a lower dose
- Try a different drug.
- Use additional drugs that could help protect your heart.
If you develop a heart problem after cancer treatment, your doctor may recommend the below medication to manage it.
- Diuretics that eliminate excess fluid from the body by increasing urination
- Blood pressure medications (ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers)
- Digitalis, which helps regulate the heart beat
How to manage severe heart problems?
Contact your health care team right away, if you notice any of these symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Discomfort or pain in the chest
- Swollen hands and/or feet
What causes heart problems?
Cancer treatments that are more likely to cause heart disorders:
- Chemotherapy with drugs called anthracyclines (daunorubicin, doxorubicin, epirubicin, idarubicin, and valrubicin
- Chemotherapy with certain other drugs mitoxantrone
- Radiation therapy to the chest
- Some types of targeted therapy, including bevacizumab, trastuzumab (Herceptin), lapatinib (Tykerb), sunitinib (Sutent), and sorafenib (Nexavar)
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