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Study Finds That Cancer Patients Have Higher Risk of Death From Cardiovascular Disease

Using information from the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, it was revealed that 11 percent of cancer patients died from cardiovascular disease.

Dr Nicholas Zaorsky, a radiation oncologist, and Dr Kathleen Sturgeon, an assistant professor in public health sciences, both at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Cancer Institute, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA, and colleagues compared the US general population with over 3.2 million US patients who had been diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2012.

Their analyses also considered factors that may confound the results, such as age, race, and sex, looking specifically at 28 different types of cancer. Among the cancer patients how died from cardiovascular disease (CVD) 76 percent of them were due to heart disease, and the risk of dying form CVD was highest in the first year after a cancer diagnosis among patients younger than 35 years of age.

The study also showed that patients who were more likely to die from cancer than from CVD were those with the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers, such as cancer of the lung, liver, brain, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, oesophagus, ovary and multiple myeloma.

Dr Sturgeon said: “These findings show that a large proportion of certain cancer patients will die of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, aneurysm, high blood pressure and damage to blood vessels. We also found that among survivors with any type of cancer diagnosed before the age of 55 years, the risk of cardiovascular death was more than ten-fold greater than in the general population.”

Adding to that Dr Zaorsky said: “Clinicians need to be aware that the majority of cardiovascular disease deaths occur in patients diagnosed with breast, prostate or bladder cancer. Thus, clinics that aim to open “cardio-oncology” centres should likely focus on the inclusion of these sites, followed by the other sites listed above. Additionally, primary care physicians and cardiologists may seek to control cardiovascular diseases more aggressively in cancer survivors.”

Lack of information of the type of treatment the patients were receiving posed as a limitation to the study. This would show whether the therapies given could have side effects that result in heart disease. Other important pieces of information on the patients were whether they had other pre-existing conditions or expose to other vices such as smoking, alcoholism, or obesity that can contribute to onset of heart disease. The socioeconomic status of the patients were also not considered.

The study was carried out in the US population, so the risks may vary in different populations; the authors believe their findings are most applicable to Canada, Europe and Australia because the cancers and causes of death among cancer patients are similar.

Dr Sturgeon concluded: “We hope these findings will increase awareness in patients, primary care physicians, oncologists and cardiologists as to the risk of cardiovascular disease among cancer patients and the need for earlier, more aggressive and better coordinated cardiovascular care.” [APBN]