Keeping your heart healthy during cancer treatment

March 09, 2016 | by Matthew Siegel, MD

As with any medication you take, cancer treatment drugs present a risk for side effects. Depending on the type of cancer treatment your oncologist recommends, some chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapies directed at your chest can cause side effects to your heart.

Talk with your doctors about potential cardiovascular complications of your treatment, and learn about your options for safeguarding your heart.

Then, do your part to keep your heart healthy:

  • During treatment, eat healthy. Go for a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, some carbohydrates, and protein-rich foods like meat, fish and poultry. Avoid foods with too much salt, added sugar, and saturated fats or trans fats. Eating a balanced, low-cholesterol diet can also help prevent heart disease. Check out these 5 super foods for your heart.
  • Eating healthy and staying active often go hand-in-hand. If your treatment plan allows, try to be physically active and maintain a healthy weight. Do not over extend yourself, but try to incorporate small, physical activities into your lifestyle, such as a short walk every day. Regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, improves circulation and strengthens your heart.
  • Do you smoke? If ever there was a time to quit, it’s now! Quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing a second cancer, and it reduces the risk of treatment-related complications. Also, one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease is to avoid tobacco smoke, as any amount of smoking damages the heart and blood vessels. No matter how much or how long you've smoked, quitting will benefit you.
  • It is natural to feel stressed and anxious during cancer treatments, but managing your stress and anxiety can put less pressure on your heart. Keep an open line of communication with your doctor during this time so you can feel more in control of your health. Focus and plan fun events and activities with your friends and family to keep your spirits up. Activities like yoga can help you “find your center” and relax.

Throughout your cancer treatment, report any symptoms of heart problems to your doctor. This includes any chest discomfort and tightness, difficulty breathing, a rapid or irregular heartbeat and the feeling of dizziness.

How do you keep your heart healthy? Tell us in the below comments.

The oncologists and cardiologists at Edward-Elmhurst Health work together to offer a unique program designed to protect patients from cardiovascular complications during cancer treatment. Read more about our Cardio-Oncology program.

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