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Breast cancer treatment linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease

Kaiser Permanente study suggests survivors and their doctors should monitor heart health


Women receiving certain common therapies for breast cancer may be at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, other cardiovascular events, and death, a new Kaiser Permanente study shows.

The research, published April 6 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), follows up on a previous study conducted by a research team led by Marilyn L. Kwan, PhD, a senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Marilyn L. Kwan, PhD, research scientist, Division of Research.

The previous study, published in January in JCO, reported an association between breast cancer treatment and the development of cardiovascular risk factors.

“This paper takes the additional step of reporting an association between treatments and the risk of cardiovascular disease itself,” said Kwan, the senior author of the new study. “Cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death among women in the U.S., is emerging as a major health concern of breast cancer survivors.”

The new study included 13,642 women with breast cancer who are enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) Pathways Study and 68,202 female KPNC members without breast cancer who were of a similar age, race, and ethnicity. The breast cancer patients were followed for an average of 7 years.

The study found:

  • Women who received anthracyclines (such as Adriamycin) and/or trastuzumab (Herceptin) had a higher risk of heart failure or cardiomyopathy than women without breast cancer. The highest risk was seen in women who received both drugs.
  • Women who received radiation therapy and were treated with an aromatase inhibitor had a higher risk of heart failure or cardiomyopathy that women without breast cancer.
  • Overall, breast cancer survivors had a higher risk of  stroke, arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, blood clots, cardiovascular disease-related death, and death from any cause than women without breast cancer.

The researchers said their 2 studies highlight the need to develop clinical strategies that can help protect the heart health of the more than 3.8 million female survivors of breast cancer now living in the U.S.

Read more about the research here.

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