Breast Cancer Can Increase Chances for Heart Condition

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Women diagnosed with breast cancer may face a higher risk of developing the abnormal heartbeat called atrial fibrillation (AFib), Danish researchers report.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. In 2018, more than two million women were diagnosed with the disease. The inflammation the disease causes might increase the risk for AFib, the researchers said, though the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

“Modern treatment regimens ensure that approximately 80 percent of breast cancer patients become long-term survivors,” said lead researcher Dr. Maria D’Souza, a member of the cardiology department at the Herlev and Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark.

These survivors, however, may develop long-term complications from the cancer and its treatment, she said. Complications can include cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

Using Danish registries, D’Souza’s team identified more than 74,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1998 and 2015. The researchers compared these women with more than 222,000 women from the general population.

The investigators found that women with breast cancer had an increased risk of AFib, and that the risk was dependent on age and time since diagnosis. The risk for women under 60 years of age more than doubled in the first six months after diagnosis, and rose 80 percent six months to three years after diagnosis, the findings showed.

Patients over 60 had a similar risk to the general population during the first six months, but had a 14 percent higher risk from six months to three years after diagnosis, according to the report published Jan. 29 in the journal HeartRhythm.

“This study was the first to show that women with recent breast cancer had an increased risk of developing AFib. Our findings should encourage doctors to focus on the risk of AFib in patients with recent breast cancer in order to diagnose and treat as early as possible,” D’Souza said in a journal news release.

“Ultimately, earlier treatment may result in better stroke prevention,” she added.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Ankur Karnik, from Boston University School of Medicine, wrote: “While we do not consider broad-based monitoring for AFib in women with breast cancer is warranted at this time, [the study] is a contribution to the burgeoning field of cardio-oncology and provides support for further research into the potentially bidirectional relationship between cancer and AFib.”

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