Chemotherapy is one of the most common forms of cancer treatments, but it's not without side effects. Although chemotherapy side effects differ depending on the type of cancer a patient is fighting, their general health, and chemo type and dosage, many people are vulnerable to heart damage. In fact, certain types of chemotherapy drugs actually increase the likelihood of heart damage.
When a heart becomes damaged by chemotherapy drugs, the organ struggles to pump blood throughout the rest of the body. This can result in a buildup of fluid and other issues that contribute to congestive heart failure. It's important to note that not every chemotherapy drug results in heart problems.
Symptoms of Heart Problems While Undergoing Chemotherapy Treatments
If you're undergoing chemotherapy treatments and experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
- Dizziness or Lightheadedness
- Shortness of Breath
- Pain or Discomfort in Your Chest
- Swollen Feet and/or Hands
Chemotherapy and Diagnosing Heart Problems
If you think you're one of the rare people experiencing heart problems while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, your doctor should be able to perform a variety of tests to determine the cause of your symptoms and discomfort. In rare cases, your doctor may even refer you to a cardiologist for further testing. Take a look at a few of the tests your doctor may perform to diagnose your heart problem.
- Physical Exam
- Echocardiogram (Echo)
- Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG)
- Multigated Acquisition (MUGA) Scan
- Chest X-ray
- Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Blood Tests
Chemotherapy and Monitoring for Heart Problems
Even if you're not experiencing symptoms associated with heart problems, your doctor may still choose to monitor you, especially if you're at a high risk of developing heart issues. If you have a certain type of cancer, your doctor may also choose to monitor you. For example, patients diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer are often watched for heart problems, despite whether symptoms present themselves. If your doctor chooses to monitor your condition, he or she will perform regular tests, including echocardiograms.
Chemotherapy and Heart Problems: Treatment and Prevention
If you're experiencing heart problems or are at risk of developing heart problems while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, your doctor may recommend a variety of options to help decrease your risk or help you manage your condition. Below are some recommendations for decreasing your risk:
- Switching to a Different Chemo Drug
- Adjusting the Dosage of a Whatever Chemo Drugs You're on
- Adding Additional Drugs to Your Chemotherapy Treatments
- Reducing Radiation Therapy to Your Heart
If you happen to develop a heart problem while undergoing chemotherapy treatments or shortly after, you will be referred to a cardiologist and he/she may recommend the following medications to help manage it:
- Blood Pressure Medications
Chemotherapy and Heart Problems: Prognosis
If you're mindful of your well-being and are quick to inform your doctor of any symptoms or risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing heart problems while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, you should be able to avoid any major issues. Communication with your healthcare team is critical while undergoing chemo treatments. If you have any questions or concerns, schedule an appointment with your doctor.