• By Jason Howland

Mayo Clinic Minute: When cancer treatment hurts your heart

May 14, 2019

Breast cancer patients who receive treatments such as chemotherapy are at increased risk for cardiac complications later in life, according to the American Heart Association.

If you're diagnosed with cancer, you will work closely with an oncologist to treat the disease. And because some cancer treatments can damage your heart, you should also see a cardiologist.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

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You've been diagnosed with cancer. You need to start treatment immediately. And you're not thinking about heart health.

"But now come the side effects of treatments, which can affect the heart," says Dr. Hector Villarraga, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. "So we as cardiologists take care of the patients' hearts, while they receive medical treatment for their cancer."

It's called "cardio-oncology." And it includes teams of experts who provide cancer care, while also protecting a patient from heart disease years down the road.

"Cardiologists and oncologists working together to protect that heart," says Dr. Villarraga. "The patient will survive the cancer, but will also survive the side effects of chemotherapy."

Cancer treatments kill cancer cells, but also can damage healthy cells, including in the heart. This can lead to future heart attacks, arrhythmias, blood clots, high blood pressure or blood vessel damage.

"It doesn't mean you're not going to take your medication for cancer. That's very important," says Dr. Villarraga. "What we do is try to see if there are signals from the heart or the vascular system that tells us, 'Hey, my heart is also suffering.'"

If you're diagnosed with cancer, talk to your oncologist about your heart health.

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