Breast cancer therapy: The risk of fatal heart disease does not appear to be increased

Fatal heart disease: risk for breast cancer patients lower than expected

Recently, U.S. health experts reported that certain breast cancer treatments can increase the risk of heart disease. However, German researchers have now found in a study that the risk for breast cancer patients to die of heart disease after radiation or chemotherapy is no greater than that of the average population.

Most common cancer in women

Breast cancer, also called breast cancer, is the most common malignant tumor in women. In Germany alone, up to 70,000 new cases are counted each year. Many patients have to undergo chemotherapy with stressful side effects. But health experts have long been pointing out that this is not always useful for breast cancer. There are also indications that this form of treatment and radiation therapy are associated with an increased heart risk. However, scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg are now showing in a study that the risk for breast cancer patients to die of heart disease after radiation or chemotherapy is not greater than that of the average population.

Heart disease after breast cancer therapy

Improved early detection and more effective therapy methods have significantly reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer.

"However, some clinical studies indicate that both chemotherapy and radiation therapy are associated with the risk of suffering from a heart disease as a result of the treatment," said Hermann Brenner from the DKFZ in a message.

Little was known about the actual risks of these side effects-related heart diseases.

However, for some patients, the risk of long-term death due to the side effect after undergoing treatment could even be greater than that of the cancer itself.

The current study from the DKFZ is now able to dispel this concern.

No increased danger found

Brenner's team evaluated the data from approximately 350,000 patients from US cancer registries. The women were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2011 and then treated with radiation or chemotherapy.

The scientists compared patient data with data on the average female population in the United States and came to the clear conclusion:

After breast cancer treatment, the risk of long-term death from heart disease is no greater than that of the average female population. This applies to chemotherapy as well as radiation.

Special treatment methods for the subgroup of so-called HER2-positive patients are not associated with a higher risk of death from heart disease.

Good news for patients

"We were initially surprised by this result ourselves," says Janick Weberpals, first author of the study. "However, we believe that our investigation will give a more realistic picture of the actual treatment situation than is the case with clinical trials."

For clinical studies, groups of volunteers are put together according to special criteria. However, the evaluation of the cancer registry takes into account all breast cancer patients included in it.

In part, the effect can probably be attributed to good risk management in the clinics, for example through special cardio-oncological units.

The patient's individual risk of developing heart disease due to breast cancer treatment is taken into account when selecting the appropriate therapy.

Close monitoring during the course of the treatment also makes it possible to identify side effects on the heart at an early stage, to adapt the oncological therapy accordingly and to quickly treat a possible heart disease.

"We consider the result of our study to be very positive for the treatment of breast cancer," summarizes Brenner. It shows that the benefit-risk balance is correct for most patients.

"In particular, it is very good news for the large number of affected patients that they do not have to worry more about deadly heart diseases if they receive good medical care and have survived breast cancer than women of the same age without breast cancer." (Ad)

Author and source information

Video: New focus on where heart disease and breast cancer treatment meet (January 2022).