Heart problems

What are heart problems?
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 are linked with heart problems. And there are ways to prevent or manage these side effects.

How bad are my heart problems?

Mild: Asymptomatic or mild symptoms; clinical or diagnostic observations only; intervention not indicated

Moderate: Moderate; minimal, local, or noninvasive intervention indicated; limiting age-appropriate instrumental ADL (activities of daily life)

Severe: Severe or medically significant, not immediately life-threatening; hospitalization or
prolongation of existing hospitalization indicated; limiting self-care ADL.

How to manage mild to moderate heart problems?
  • Deep inspiration 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.
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) that directs the radiation dose at the tumor by varying the intensity of the beam.
  • Reducing radiation therapy to the heart using a lower dose
  • Giving a different drug.
  • Giving 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
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • 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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