Results from a baseline study conducted among cancer patients receiving treatment at Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) show a link between cancer and cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) which triggers a set of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels such as stroke and coronary heart disease.
The 15-months study titled ‘Detecting Subclinical Anthracycline Related Cardiac Dysfunction in Low Income Countries’ (SATRACD) which is the first of its kind to be done in Uganda involved 355 patients who were scheduled to receive a cancer treatment called anthracycline therapy.
Dr. Wanzhu Zhang, the Lead researcher and Cardiologist at Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) told URN in an interview ahead of the World Heart day to be observed on Wednesday that breast cancer accounted for majority of the patients studied.
“While obesity has been a traditional risk factor for CVD, we are now seeing that it promotes cancer and breast cancer has been recognized as one of the obesity-associated cancers. About 54% of breast cancer patients in Uganda are either overweight or obese”.
Moreover, HIV-associated inflammation was identified as a major onset of cardiovascular risk, causing abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure.
Other risk factors identified include alcohol use at 20%, anemia at 17%, and smoking at 1.1%, Diabetes at 0.3% and Chronic Kidney Disease at 0.3%. These findings she says, show a large proportion of certain cancer patients are at risk of developing heart problems such as blocked arteries and damage to small blood vessels if the risk factors are not quickly addressed.
As long-term survival rates for cancer improve due to advancements in treatment, Dr. Zhang says it is critical to tackle CVD risk factors such as hypertension that may become significant years later. “The high prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors among cancer patients calls for earlier, more aggressive and better coordinated cardiovascular care,” she cautioned. “Knowing the CVD risks is the first step to improving cardiac care of cancer patients.”
The study also sought to identify the impact of anthracycline therapy on heart function and reveals that the therapy poses dangerous heart problems to cancer patients because it not only affects the heart function directly but also weakens the ability of the heart do adapt other ‘stressors’ later in their life for example, a major operation, pregnancy and chest radiotherapy.
Dr. Zhang therefore notes that clinicians should closely monitor the heart function of cancer patients before and after chemotherapy. On an individual basis, preventive strategies she recommends include regular medical check-up of blood pressure, diabetes and obesity; eating healthy diet and regular mild exercise.