By Vera Gruessner
While being diagnosed with breast cancer or any type of cancer for that matter can be a terrifying experience and many may feel scared and depressed as they fight for their life, the type of treatments given for many types of cancer today could lead to other serious health concerns in the future. For example, CBS 6, a Richmond-based news station, reported about a story in which a young woman was diagnosed with breast cancer and later learned that her treatments had led to heart disease.
Casey Bouchard was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 26 years and would later go on to receive chemotherapy, radiation, and a lumpectomy. While the cancer treatments were meant to get rid of the breast tumor, they also “put extra stress on her heart.”
The treatments for heart failure could be anywhere from trying new medications to taking them off of their current cancer therapies. The Mayo Clinic reported that chemotherapy could lead to a weakened heart muscle and arrhythmias, which are irregular heart rhythms. Some other treatments have been linked to high blood pressure. Nonetheless, chemotherapy-induced heart disease is rare, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Heart damage is also often reversible once cancer treatment is completed. The chemotherapy drugs fluorouracil and capecitabine (Xeloda) should be monitored carefully, as they can actually lead to a heart attack in some cases. Any patients with severe chest pain or shortness of breath after taking these drugs needs to see their doctor immediately. If the primary oncologist or cardiologist can’t be reached, patients are advised to go to the closest emergency department.
Along with chemotherapy, many breast cancer patients undergo radiation. Since radiation of breast tumors is located so close to the heart, the combination of both chemotherapy and radiation could further contribute to developing heart disease. Radiation in breast cancer patients can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, and heart attack.
Despite the higher risk of heart disease, there are steps that breast cancer survivors can take to strengthen their heart. The Siteman Cancer Center offered a number of methods. First, it’s vital to avoid smoking as well as second-hand smoke. If you smoke, try your best to quit. Talk to your doctor about ways you can quit. There are programs health plans incorporate to help people quit smoking.
Maintain an exercise regime
The next step to take is to increase the amount of exercise you partake in. It may be difficult to maintain a fitness regime while undergoing cancer treatment, but breast cancer survivors have a greater chance. Once treatment is behind you, aim to increase your physical activity to at least 30 minutes per day. Try to go on brisk walks for half an hour every day as well as include strength training at least twice a week.
Eat healthy foods and keep your weight under control
After undergoing chemotherapy and other intense treatments, some breast cancer survivors may actually be underweight. If so, it is important to gain weight in a healthy manner. This means eating lots of whole grains, lean meats like poultry and fish, fruits, and vegetables. Bigger portions may be advised.
However, if you are overweight or obese, it is vital to lose weight and this means limiting fats, junk food, carbohydrates, processed foods, and sweets. Choose smaller portions. Additionally, exercising regularly and limiting time watching television can contribute to weight loss.
Breast cancer survivors should minimize their consumption of red meat and saturated fats. Add fruits and vegetables into your daily diet such as throwing some fruit into your bowl of cereal or oatmeal in the morning. Eat chicken, fish, or beans as your main supply of protein. Whole-grain cereals, brown rice, and whole-wheat breads are also recommended. Try to avoid fast food and candy or cookies.
Cut back on alcohol consumption
To protect your heart, it is beneficial to have some red wine with a meal as much as three times per week. However, too much alcohol can have a detrimental affect and potentially lead to secondary cancers. As such, it is vital to moderate alcohol consumption. Breast cancer survivors should limit their drinks to two or three times per week.
Continue getting check-ups and screenings
Once your treatment is over, don’t forget to visit your primary care doctor and oncology team for any follow-ups. Yearly check-ups with a primary care physician are recommended and future cancer screenings are encouraged.