Living with Cardiotoxicity

Living with Cardiotoxicity

The goal of a cardio-oncology program is to help prevent short- and long-term cardiac complications of cancer therapy. As a result, your team works closely with you and other specialists to ensure that your heart is safe prior to, during, and following your cancer therapies. 

Part of living with cardiotoxicity is being aware of its symptoms. Being aware of the heart-related symptoms helps you monitor your well-being and bring changes to the attention of your healthcare team.

Taking Care of Risk Factors for Cardiotoxicity

It is important to work closely with your cardio-oncology team to identify and treat cardiac complications resulting from cancer therapy. Preventing and treating these cardiac complications during cancer therapy (and beyond) helps to prevent a “second hit” to the heart. Controlling blood pressure, blood sugars, cholesterol levels and maintaining a healthy weight and exercise levels helps prevent further injury to the heart later in life.

Blood Pressure

To prevent cardiotoxicity both now and into the future, it is important to ensure that other risk factors for heart disease are treated during your cancer treatment, and beyond. This includes maintaining a healthy blood pressure. 

Diet and Exercise 

Part of blood pressure control includes diet and exercise.

Physical Activity 

We encourage people to continue to be physically active during their cancer treatment. Exercise has many physical and psychological benefits, and may help alleviate some cancer treatment symptoms, leading to improved appetite; sleep; and energy levels; increased strength; lower stress and anxiety; and better control of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. 

The long-term goal of exercise is 90-150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity. This can be achieved by a brisk walk, jogging, cycling, and/or swimming. If you are not physically active now, you can start by walking briskly for 10-15 minutes 2-3 times per week and gradually working your way up to 30 minutes five times per week. It is also important to have a warm-up and cool-down period of five minutes each during your exercise. 

If you have questions about exercise, please ask your healthcare team. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are an excellent way of increasing physical activity during your cancer treatments, and beyond. 

Note that there are times when you are not recommended to exercise. 

Avoiding Alcohol and Smoking 

Avoiding alcohol is important when managing or decreasing your risk of cardiotoxicity. Alcohol is a toxin to the heart and can lead to heart failure. 

Smoking is another important risk factor for heart disease. It is important that you quit smoking to prevent high blood pressure, coronary disease, and stroke. Reach out to your healthcare team if you need help to quit smoking. 

Managing Stress 

Stress is common while undergoing cancer therapy and having a heart problem on top of cancer treatment can further increase stress levels. Managing stress is important, as increased stress can elevate blood pressure levels and make daily activities more difficult. It is important to reach out to your support persons and healthcare team if you are having increased stress or anxiety levels.