Radiation therapy and chemotherapy usually have cardiovascular complications among their side effects.
Cancer treatment multiplies the risk of cardiovascular complications by three, while representing the most frequent cause of death among women who survive breast cancer or lymphoma, according to the Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC).
Thus, an important, and sometimes “belittled” side effect of some cancer treatments are heart problems, according to the National Cancer Institute of the United States.
“Up to 50% of those who survive cancer have clinical sequelae, with cardiovascular disorders being one of them. However, proper control can reduce the risks,” the FEC warns.
Although all patients who have received oncological treatment may suffer cardiovascular disorders, the ones that run the most risk are those who present other cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, smoking, or hypercholesterolemia.
Therefore, doctors advise to diagnose and treat patients early, and involve them in the care of cardiovascular risk factors, instilling them with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
It has been shown that a heart-healthy life can reduce the side effects on the heart of cancer treatments, as the FEC emphasizes.
As the American National Cancer Institute states, certain cancer treatments can damage the heart and circulatory system.
These side effects or ‘cardiotoxicities’, such as heart rhythm disturbances, heart failure, or myocardial ischemia, can be caused or exacerbated by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and by new treatment modalities, such as targeted therapies or immunotherapy.
The appearance of cardiotoxicity during the administration of the cancer treatment may imply, in some cases, the need to modify it or even stop it, with the risk that this entails in terms of its effectiveness.
On the other hand, some cardiac side effects do not appear during the administration of the treatment but may appear years after having finished it according to alerts issued by the National Cancer Institute.
The administration of thoracic radiotherapy can cause damage at the level of the myocardium, pericardium, coronary arteries, and valvular tissue, which results in cardiomyopathies, valvular insufficiencies, early coronary disease, or heart failure.
As for chemotherapy, the administration of anthracyclines, one of the most commonly used drugs in the treatment of tumours such as breast cancer, can cause direct damage to myocardial cells, causing ventricular dysfunction.
Therefore, and given that it is an undervalued side effect, there is a need to create cardio-oncology units with the aim of facilitating early diagnosis, effective treatment, and follow-up of these patients.
While in the United States most hospitals have units of these characteristics, elsewhere there are few hospitals that have them.
In this context, it is important to highlight the creation of cardio-oncology units in the field of private health.
These units, equipped with the latest technological advances in the field of oncology and cardiology, can create programs of control, early diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of possible cardiac toxicity associated with cancer treatments.
Effective monitoring of cardiac issues involvement secondary to cancer treatment prevents complications and irreversible cardiac injuries.
As pointed out by the National Cancer Institute of the United States, the creation of cardio-oncology units is essential to identify and investigate the cardiac side effects associated with cancer treatments.
It is essential to develop research programs that identify the mechanisms responsible for these adverse effects, minimize their impact on the administration of cancer treatment, and facilitate compliance with it, which, without doubt, remains the main objective in these patients.
The union of oncologists and cardiologists should facilitate the achievement of these objectives based on multidisciplinary work and supported by the greatest possible scientific evidence, with the sole purpose of improving the health of cancer patients.