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A healthy lifestyle could help cancer survivors to counter increased risk of heart problems, say experts

One in ten survivors of cancer are dying of illnesses associated with heart disease, according to a new US study.

Research published in the European Heart Journal studied three million cancer patients over 40 years. The results suggests that more attention should be paid to the risk of cardiovascular problems – including focusing on diet and exercise – in those in remission from cancer.

A study of three million cancer survivors in the US found that 11 per cent went on to die from cardiovascular diseases

Of the 3.23 million patients who took part in the study – which included 28 types of cancer – 38 per cent died from cancer, while 11 per cent lost their lives to cardiovascular diseases (CVD).

While the increased risk of CVD in the year following diagnosis could be explained by invasive treatments such as chemotherapy, the risk continued to be higher in survivors than in the general population.

Rate of CVD deaths were highest in those who’d had bowel, breast, prostate, larynx and bladder cancers.

Study lead, radiation oncologist Dr Nicholas Zaorsky from Penn State Cancer Institute, said being aware of an increased heart risk might help cancer survivors to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

He said: “Increasing awareness of this risk may spur cancer survivors to implement healthy lifestyle behaviours that not only decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease, but also the risk of cancer recurrence.”

In the UK, Prof Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the US research provided more evidence that cancer survivors appear to be at a higher risk of death from CVD than the general population.

He said: “We need more research to understand why this is, and whether factors other than the known damaging effects of some anti-cancer treatments on the heart and blood vessels are at play.

The study’s lead, Dr Nicholas Zaorsky said: “Increasing awareness of this risk may spur cancer survivors to implement healthy lifestyle behaviours that not only decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease, but also the risk of cancer recurrence.”

“What is becoming increasingly clear is that cancer doctors and cardiologists need to work together from an early stage to try and minimise the risk of patients surviving cancer but succumbing to heart and circulatory diseases.”

Martin Ledwick, head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC: “Doctors should be aware of this research as it suggests cancer patients need to be monitored more closely after treatment, for heart disease and stroke.

“But it doesn’t tell us why some cancer patients may be at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

“For some, it might be treatment-related – radiotherapy to the chest and some chemotherapy drugs can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.

“But some of the cancers included in the study share lifestyle risk factors with cardiovascular disease – for example, obesity and smoking, which might also explain the increased risk.

“This is another reason why it’s important for everyone to have a healthy lifestyle.”

Penn State Cancer Institute