AHA: Breast cancer therapies, heart disease linked

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. It also kills more Americans than all cancers combined. An estimated 47 million women in the U.S. have heart disease. The American Heart Association is now warning breast cancer patients and survivors that they are at high risk of developing heart failure and other cardiac problems.

"It can be serious business," said Dr. Ileana Pina, a cardiologist and an AHA spokesperson. "Some of them get sick, quite sick, with their heart failure. I have sent patients to transplant."

Dr. Pina, associate chief of cardiology at Montefiore Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, said lifesaving therapies—including radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments—can cause serious heart problems, some of which might not materialize until years later.

"Some of the medications that are being used to treat breast cancer can ultimately end in cardiac disease," she said.

But Dr. Pina and the AHA said that women should not stop their cancer treatments. She said that cardiologists should also be involved to help protect women's hearts before, during, and after breast cancer treatments.

"There has to be a team approach to the care—not only the oncologists who are doing, I think, a fabulous job with breast cancer but also the cardiologist," Dr. Pina said, "so that the heart can be monitored, the patient can be advised about what can happen with some of the medications, and that we can treat them."

She highly recommended talking to your doctor before undergoing treatment.

"You ask your oncologist about, 'What medications am I going to get, what are the effects on the heart, and do you work now with a cardiologist that can work with us together?'" Dr. Pina said.

The AHA also continues to stress the importance of exercising, saying that breast cancer survivors can improve their chances of living a long, healthy life by exercising and eating well.