With the growing number of cancer survivors, the medical community is increasingly aware of a hitherto less-noticed health risk: cardiovascular disease linked to cancer treatment. Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease triggered or exacerbated by cancer drugs is the second leading cause of long-term morbidity and mortality among cancer survivors. To mark World Heart Day on September 29, Jutta Bergler-Klein from the Division of Cardiology at MedUni Vienna is raising awareness about the importance of preventing cardiovascular disease, especially in cancer patients.
Cardio-oncology is the name given to the relatively new field of research into the links between cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two most common causes of death in western industrialized countries like Austria. As the prognosis of cancer patients improves, the phenomenon of cardiotoxicity becomes increasingly important. This is damage to the patient’s heart caused or exacerbated by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
We now know that cardiotoxicity can lead to high blood pressure, valve disease, premature calcification of coronary arteries, heart failure, coronary syndromes such as myocardial infarction or arrhythmia.”
Jutta Bergler-Klein, Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine II, MedUni Vienna
In 2018, the cardiologist launched a special outpatient clinic for cardio-oncology at MedUni Vienna and is committed to drawing the attention of doctors and patients to this specialty, which is gaining importance in the medical world due to the number growing number of cancer survivors.
Cardiac protection before, during and after cancer treatment
Cardio-oncology research shows that it is not only cancer drugs that can alter heart function, but also substances produced by tumors. Conversely, chronic heart failure causes a chronic systemic inflammatory state, which can promote the development of cancer. Therefore, the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease is important at all times, especially after a cancer diagnosis and before, during and after cancer treatment. The measures taken must in no way delay or hinder life-saving cancer treatment.
An international working group including Jutta Bergler-Klein recently developed the first ever clear guidelines for primary and secondary cardiovascular prevention and treatment of cancer patients within the Cardio-Oncology Guidelines. However, cancer patients themselves can also help protect their cardiovascular system: “Cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, should be treated promptly. Exercise and sports activity, even during chemotherapy, if possible, can reduce potential cardiotoxicity, for example by neutralizing oxygen radicals and preventing muscle wasting“, emphasizes Bergler-Klein.
Medical University of Vienna
Lyon, AR, et al. (2022) 2022 ESC Guidelines on cardio-oncology developed in collaboration with the European Hematology Association (EHA), the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ESTRO) and the International Cardio-Oncology Society (IC-OS ): developed by the cardio-oncology task force of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). European journal of the heart. doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehac244.