Cancer treatments can be very effective in treating cancer and improving survival rates.
However, some cancer treatments can also cause damage to the heart, which is called cardiotoxicity.
This damage can range from slight changes in the heart’s pumping ability to debilitating heart failure. Until now, it has been unclear how these drugs cause damage to the heart.
An international study published in the journal Science Advances has identified proteins in the blood that are linked to an increased risk of developing heart diseases, including heart failure, and which are also affected by drugs used in cancer treatment.
The study’s findings can help explain how cancer drugs cause their damaging effects on the heart and could help identify those at increased risk.
In the long run, this could lead to improved cancer treatments, with new drugs potentially being developed that can shrink tumors without affecting the identified proteins.
The study also reveals new potential drug targets for treating heart diseases, including heart failure.
These drugs may work by inhibiting proteins linked to higher disease risk or activating proteins linked to lower risk.
The researchers first performed a genome-wide association study, searching through the DNA of nearly 37,000 people without heart disease enrolled in the UK Biobank study.
They identified genetic variants linked to changes to the structure and function of the heart’s pumping chambers, the ventricles.
Using a technique called Mendelian randomization, the researchers pinpointed 33 proteins coded for by these genetic variants.
They are present in the blood and are associated with the risk of developing several heart diseases, including heart failure and atrial fibrillation.
The proteins identified in the study can help accelerate future drug development, offering scientists a blueprint for new treatments for both cancer and heart diseases.
This can help them be more confident of the effects of the drugs that they design, whether that’s shrinking tumors without causing damage elsewhere or improving the heart’s pumping action.
This research is an important step forward in developing safer and more refined drugs so that worries about developing heart problems after cancer treatment might one day be a thing of the past.
How to protect heart health if you have cancer
If you have cancer and are undergoing treatment, it’s essential to protect your heart health.
Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can damage the heart and increase the risk of heart disease. Here are some steps you can take to protect your heart health during cancer treatment:
Communicate with your healthcare team: Make sure to discuss any pre-existing heart conditions with your healthcare team. They can monitor your heart function and adjust your treatment plan if necessary.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet and staying physically active can help improve heart health.
Try to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, every week.
Quit smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease. Quitting smoking can improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Monitor your heart health: Ask your healthcare team to monitor your heart health during cancer treatment. This may include regular electrocardiograms (ECGs) or echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart).
Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease.
Managing these conditions through medication, lifestyle changes, and regular medical check-ups can improve heart health.
Discuss heart-protective medications: Some medications, such as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, can protect the heart during cancer treatment. Discuss with your healthcare team if these medications are appropriate for you.
By incorporating these habits into your lifestyle and discussing heart-protective medications with your healthcare team, you can help protect your heart health during cancer treatment.
If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and calcium supplements could harm your heart health.
If you care about cancer, please read studies that a low-carb diet could increase overall cancer risk, and can vitamin D help prevent or treat cancer?
The study was conducted by Amand F. Schmidt et al and published in Science Advances.
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