With over 2 million new cases in 2018, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and second most common type of diagnosed cancer worldwide. The good news is that modern treatment is helping around 80% of all breast cancer patients become long-term survivors. However, breast cancer treatments affect both cancer cells and healthy cells, which means survivors often encounter complications resulting not only from the cancer, but also the treatment.
Past studies have found that breast cancer survivors often have increased rates of heart disease. In fact, research has found that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
Recently, a Denmark study looked more specifically at the connection between breast cancer and the increased risk for Atrial Fibrillation (Afib or AF). Atrial Fibrillation is an arrhythmia – or irregular heartbeat – and can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots, or other complications.
The Denmark study, published in HeartRhythm, used nationwide registries to analyze the long-term prevalence of AF in breast cancer patients compared to the general population. For the study, the researchers identified 74,155 breast cancer patients who were diagnosed between 1998 and 2015, then compared their information against 222,465 members of the general population.
Researchers concluded that AF was more prevalent in breast cancer patients. Additionally, the increase in risk varied depending on age and how long ago the patient was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Denmark study was the first to indicate that women with breast cancer are at an increased risk of AF. As a result, researchers hope that physicians will keep a closer eye out for early indicators so they can diagnose and treat quickly to help prevent the risk of an Afib-related stroke or other complications.
First, although the study’s results are discouraging, there are a couple of important things to note. The researchers did not take into account women who may have already had heart problems prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, or women who had other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, drinking, and being overweight.
That being said, before starting any cancer treatment, women should talk to their doctors about the heart-related risks for various types of treatments. Also, ask about how your heart function will be checked throughout treatment and beyond.
You may also want to visit a cardiologist before starting treatment. A cardiologist can assess your heart function and help you determine if you’re at a high risk of developing heart disease from your breast cancer treatment. All of these steps can help you determine the best treatment options for your specific situation.