Cancer patients more likely to die of heart problems, stroke

Washington: In a new study, researchers have found that a lot of people diagnosed with cancer are more likely to die of heart and blood vessel problems, instead of the main disease.

Even more, for cancers like those affecting breasts, prostate, endometrial, and thyroid, around half of the patients will die from cardiovascular diseases (CVD), according to the study published in the European Heart Journal.

For the study, researchers compared the US general population with over 3.2 million US patients who had been diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2012.

They used information contained in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database to look at deaths from CVD, which included heart disease, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, blocked arteries and damage to the aorta – the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

They adjusted their analyses to take account of factors that could affect the results, such as age, race and sex, and looked specifically at 28 types of cancer.

Among the 3,234,256 cancer patients, 38 per cent (1,228,328) died from cancer and 11 per cent (365,689) died from CVDs. Among the deaths from CVD, 76 per cent were due to heart disease, and risk of dying from CVD was highest in the first year after a cancer diagnosis and among patients younger than 35 years.

The majority of CVD deaths occurred in patients with cancers of the breast (a total of 60,409 patients) and prostate (84,534 patients), as these are among the most common cancers to be diagnosed.

In 2012, 61 per cent of all cancer patients who died from CVD were diagnosed with breast, prostate, or bladder cancer.

The proportion of cancer survivors dying from CVD was highest in bladder (19 per cent of patients), larynx (17 per cent), prostate (17 per cent), womb (16 per cent), bowel (14 per cent) and breast (12 per cent) cancers.

Patients who were more likely to die from cancer than from CVD were those with the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers, such as cancer of the lung, liver, brain, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, oesophagus, ovary and multiple myeloma.

Dr Kathleen Sturgeon, assistant professor in public health sciences at Penn State Cancer Institute, Hershey, Pennsylvania said: “These findings show that a large proportion of certain cancer patients will die of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, aneurysm, high blood pressure and damage to blood vessels.”

“We also found that among survivors with any type of cancer diagnosed before the age of 55 years, the risk of cardiovascular death was more than ten-fold greater than in the general population,” Sturgeon added.

“The risk of death from cardiovascular diseases is several times that of the general population in the first year of diagnosis; sometimes, this risk decreases, but for most, this risk increases as survivors are followed for ten years or more,” the researcher continued.

Dr Nicholas Zaorsky, a radiation oncologist at Penn State College of Medicine stated the reason why cancer patients were more at risk of dying from cardiovascular disease within the first year of diagnosis might be because when they entered the hospital system, other illnesses and problems, such as heart disease, lung dysfunction and kidney failure were also detected.