A Test for Boldness Once Again: Childhood Cancer Survivors are at an Increased Risk of Heart Disease
A cure for an illness must not be the cause for some other illness. Some of you might think that this is an unnecessary statement as medical discoveries don’t work that way but you are mistaken sometimes.
Cancer was a deadly disease a couple of decades back as there was no cure and people ultimately died once they were diagnosed with the disease. Though still a terrible disease, recent times have witnessed tremendous improvements in cancer treatment procedures that include chemotherapy and radiation therapy for patients suffering from all types of cancer. Many patients go cancer-free and live for years together while there are many others who acquire other forms of cancer or health problems in a few years’ time after their cure. In the 1980s survival rates for leukemia went past single-digit numbers to 50% and kids were declared to be cancer-free. But few years down the lane the same doctors witnessed that these children who were free of cancer were not healthy either. The chemo and radiation treatment that was used to kill chest tumors led to weakening of the heart sometimes month after cancer treatment or even a decade after. Many of them were struggling to breathe, some faced heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms and others were bestowed with a second cancer due to the treatment effects of the first, trouble learning, infertility, thyroid abnormalities and impaired kidneys and lung functionalities. These were the first set of children who brought into limelight the side effects of the cancer treatment.
Radiation & Chemo Increase Risk of Heart Diseases
While radiation and chemo help in killing cancer in individuals they can also lead to development of cardiovascular problems in the same individuals- Some cardio problems can occur while the chemo is being given and others occur when the individual has long forgotten about cancer. Radiation therapy has the ability to cause heart failure, heart attack and arrhythmias while chemotherapy can cause damage to the heart and the peripheral blood vessels, cause problems with clotting or blood lipids.
A research team studied 7,300 survivors who were diagnosed with cancer at the age of 7. This group was compared with another group of 36,000 individuals who were of the same age group and gender but without any cancer. The research team found that childhood cancer survivors were at a three-time higher risk of having a cardiac event compared to their counterparts without cancer. Almost 3% of cancer survivors faced one or more cardiac events during a decade of follow-up in comparison to only 1% of those without cancer. Those who survived the harms of cancer were at a 10-time higher risk of heart failure (such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, valve abnormalities, heart failure and cardiomyopathy) than those without cancer. While cancer treatment cannot stop it is possible to address modifiable risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes that can occur as a side effect of the cancer treatment. These modifiable risk factors have the risk of leading to premature ageing of the heart paving way for heart disease to strike earlier.
It is indeed frightening to witness such devastating side effects of cancer treatment in kids. Heart muscles start to weaken soon after chemo when using certain chemotherapy agents. Heart attack, arrhythmias, low blood flow to the heart and inflammation of the sac around the heart can also be possible due to other agents. It might prove to be useful to be followed up by a cardiologist especially in those case of patients who are at a high risk of heart disease or already suffer from it.
It is indeed necessary to monitor the survivor’s lifestyle practices and eating styles to protect against metabolic disorders and cardiac diseases. Eating healthy, exercising daily and staying active helps in reducing the ill effects of heart disease and other health problems as much as possible. But again, this is besides the effects of chemotherapy and radiation done for killing cancer cells in patients. For pursuing a healthy lifestyle and eating right get in touch with reputed dietitians and nutritionists at www.firsteatright.com.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.