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Two Breast Cancer Treatments Can Affect the Heart


Researchers have learned that radiation treatments and the drug Herceptin can cause heart problems, but they caution that the problems are generally treatable and should not keep people from having recommended cancer treatments.

One study found that women who had radiation to the left breast had an increased risk of heart disease 20 years after their treatment. Those who already had heart disease were at the highest risk. Radiation treatments today are typically more sophisticated and more targeted and less likely to cause damage to the heart. But people who have had radiation in the past should have their hearts monitored frequently to check for damage.

In a second study, researchers learned that the drug Herceptin can decrease the heart's pumping ability, usually during the period of time in which the patient is actually taking the drug. Beta blockers and ACE inhibitors were typically effective in reversing this problem, and most of the women who did experience heart trouble recovered fully after they no longer took Herceptin.

The primary message here is that it's important to have the health of your heart checked before you begin breast cancer treatment. This can give your doctor "baseline" information, which is the key to being able to detect a decline in your heart function after treatment begins.

Journal of Clinical Oncology, 15 August 2006
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