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Cancer Treatments Linked to Heart Problems

Only certain cancer therapies are linked to heart troubles. These may include:

  • Radiation therapy, especially when given to the chest because it’s so close to the heart
  • Certain chemotherapy medicines, particularly anthracycline-based chemotherapy, though the amount used today is less than that used in previous decades
  • Certain targeted therapies or newer immunotherapy drugs 

Other factors can play a role in how likely someone is to develop heart troubles as a side effect of their cancer treatments. For example, if you:

  • Already have heart disease—that is, before finding out you have cancer
  • Have risk factors for heart disease—such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight or smoking
  • Older age
  • Receive higher doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Are on more than one treatment known to have damaging effects on the heart (for example, chest radiation therapy in addition to an anthracycline-based chemotherapy and trastuzumab)

Some heart problems or diseases can arise during or long after cancer treatment. These can include:

  • Heart valve disease: The valves of the heart may become too narrow, stiff or no longer close property; this can disrupt usual blood flow through the heart and to the body.
  • Cardiomyopathy or heart failure: Weakening or stiffening of the heart that affects the ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
  • Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart that can be due to infection or certain medications.
  • Coronary artery disease: Blockages or scarring in the heart’s arteries. In particular, radiation therapy near the heart can make a buildup of plaque (called atherosclerosis) happen faster than would usually be expected. In some cases, this can lead to a heart attack.
  • Heart rhythm problems: The most common is atrial fibrillation, or AFib, which is also a leading cause of stroke. Tachycardia—when the heart beats too fast—can also occur.
  • Thickening or damage to the outside lining of the heart
  • Blood clots and stroke: Dangerous blood clots are more common in people with cancer.
  • Last Edited 01/31/2020