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4 Heart-Health Strategies for Cancer Survivors

A doctor speaks with a patient undergoing cancer treatment.

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There has been a true revolution in cancer therapy over the past few years. If you are one of the millions of American cancer survivors to benefit from this wave of new, effective therapies, then I hope you're feeling well as you receive your treatments.

At the same time, cancer treatment (and indeed, cancer itself) can take a major toll on the heart, putting survivors at risk of developing or accelerating cardiovascular disease. As a cardio-oncologist — a doctor who specializes in helping cancer patients and survivors maintain their heart health — my goal is to ensure that you have the best response to cancer therapies and the best chance to live a long, healthy life free of heart disease.

Here are four proactive strategies that you and your loved ones can use to keep you feeling your best:

#1: Start with Self-Monitoring

It's important to pay attention to what's happening in your body throughout your cancer journey. When performing your health checks, be sure to make time for the following:

  • Keep an eye on your blood pressure. If you are receiving chemotherapy, it is usually checked at your chemotherapy visits. If not, check your blood pressure regularly at home.
  • Monitor your nutrition and food intake to ensure a healthy diet
  • Weigh yourself regularly to identify when changes to your diet or exercise might be needed, or when your body might be retaining fluid

#2: Be the One Who Starts the Conversation

Talk to your cancer doctor about the benefits of seeing a cardiologist if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease.

#3: Remember to Take Your Meds (if Prescribed)

Some cancer patients or survivors can benefit greatly from heart medications such as:

  • Beta blockers
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers
  • Statins
  • Aldosterone antagonists

Depending on your situation, these medicines may lower your risk of heart disease or heart failure and can even prevent the conditions in some cases! In addition, they can manage high blood pressure — even if you never had high blood pressure before starting cancer therapy.

#4: Proactively Limit Your Cardiovascular Risks

Don't get discouraged if your energy level is lower than you would like. Focus instead on doing the best you can. Even a little sleep and physical activity is better than none at all.

  • Create and follow an exercise routine; if radiation therapy has zapped your energy, ease off until you feel less fatigued
  • Keep up with your walking goals during chemotherapy
  • Make sure that you are getting adequate sleep (about 7–9 hours nightly)
  • Try to manage your stress (less stress can benefit your heart and overall health)

Taking a Wholecare Approach to Your Heart Health

I am a heart doctor who is passionate about caring for people with cancer. My passion is shared by the other medical staff members of AMITA Health's cardio-oncology core team:

  • A dedicated nurse navigator who serves as the lead coordinator between you, your family and all the AMITA Health doctors and other professionals who provide your cancer care
  • Skilled technicians adept at imaging the heart via multiple modalities

Our core team helps prevent, reduce and, if possible, reverse damage to the heart and vascular system caused by cancer treatments or the cancer itself. We stand ready to help you live life to the fullest, during and after your cancer care. Until then, I encourage you to adopt the four strategies I've shared with you today.

About the Author:

Noura Dabbouseh, MD, MS, FACC

While patients come to see Dr. Dabbouseh for their heart problems, she likes to look at the patient as a whole. She not only diagnoses and treats patients but also considers treatments and changes that will help the patient’s quality of life and potentially improve longevity.

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