If This Has Happened to You, Your Heart Disease Risk Is 40 Percent Higher, Experts Warn

Are you one of the 18 million Americans at increased risk?

Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in the U.S. among both men and women. However, experts are now warning that if you've survived another major health battle—widely considered the second leading cause of death—your chance of developing fatal heart disease could be even higher. In fact, a new study out this month concludes that your risk of heart disease rises by 42 percent if you have this in your health history. Read on to learn which particular condition is most closely linked to heart disease, and why over 18 million Americans are directly affected by this news.

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Your heart disease risk soars if this has happened to you.

Senior woman talking to doctor

A Jul. 2022 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) found a surprising connection between surviving cancer and later developing cardiovascular disease. The researchers viewed state registries and the medical records of 12,414 ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities) study participants to better understand the link between cancer and incident cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease (CHD), heart failure (HF), and stroke. They found that individuals who had survived cancer had a 42 percent higher risk of later developing heart disease.

Researchers believe this increased risk is at least in part a side effect of cancer treatment. "There are chemotherapies that can damage the heart, and radiation to the chest can also affect the heart," Roberta Florido, MD, lead author of the study and director of cardio-oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine told U.S. News & World Report. "It's possible that these therapies, in the long run, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease."

When looking at heart fatalities, the risk for cancer patients appears even more stark. "Overall, the risk of fatal heart disease for cancer patients is more than twice that of the general population," says a 2011 study published in the journal Nature.

READ THIS NEXT: If Your Legs Feel Like This, Get Your Heart Checked.

This directly affects 18 million Americans and counting.

an older woman talking to her doctor while in the office

These findings could have profound implications, given that survival rates for cancer patients are on the rise. In fact, the JACC study notes that over 80 percent of adults diagnosed with cancer survive long term.

"As early detection methods and cancer treatments have gotten better, the number of people who have had cancer has gone up greatly over the last 50 years in the United States. In 1971, there were three million people with cancer. According to the latest figures (2022), there were 18 million people living with a history of cancer in the United States," says the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

As this population continues to grow, more research will be needed to ensure adequate care. "Long-term complications of cancer and its therapies may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), but prospective studies using adjudicated cancer and CVD events are lacking," the JACC authors write.

Certain cancer types may be more closely linked with heart failure.

Doctor looking at a mammogram

The Nature study specifically worked to identify the cancer survivors at highest risk of fatal heart disease, and learned that the cancer types most closely linked to fatal heart disease shifted depending on the patient's age. "If under 40 years of age, the plurality of heart disease deaths occurs in patients treated for breast cancer and lymphomas; if greater than or equal to 40, from cancers of the prostate, colorectum, breast, and lung," the study authors wrote.

Out of the 7,529,481 cancer patients studied, 394,849 died of heart disease during the study period.

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These other factors may also affect your risk level.

Woman talking with her doctor

Additional factors, including age at time of cancer diagnosis, also seemed to increase a cancer survivor's likelihood of later developing heart problems. "Patients who were diagnosed at a younger age had a higher SMR [​​standardized mortality ratio] for fatal heart disease, and the SMRs gradually declined as patients were diagnosed at a later age," the Nature study explained.

Other demographic factors were similarly found to increase risk. "Compared to other cancer patients, patients who are older, male, African American, and unmarried are at a greatest risk of fatal heart disease," the study authors observed.

Speak with your doctor if you have a history of cancer and are concerned about your heart health.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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