Cancer Patients Are at a Higher Risk of Stroke, According to a Major US Study
Tue, April 20, 2021

Cancer Patients Are at a Higher Risk of Stroke, According to a Major US Study

People living with or who have survived cancer are at a higher risk of dying from stroke compared to the general population, a new study has found / Photo by: Dragon Images via Shutterstock

 

People living with or who have survived cancer are at a higher risk of dying from stroke compared to the general population, a new study has found.

Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine found that those who have or were cleared of cancer are more likely to die from heart disease like stroke and that risk increases over time. Experts say the dangers could be due to common cancer treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and radiotherapy) that they claim raise the chances of cardiovascular diseases.

The research was published in the European Heart Journal and is based on an earlier study that states most cancer patients die from something other than their disease.

Identifying the Fatality of Stroke

The researchers looked into the data gathered from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program that covers 28% of the population. It includes information about cancer incidence, survival, treatment, age, and year of diagnosis.

The current study used SEER data on over 7.2 million people with invasive cancer between 1992 and 2015. Invasive cancer is when the disease has spread beyond the tissue in which the cancer initially developed, according to medical news site MedicalXpress. 

Their analysis of the data found that stroke was the cause of death for 80,513 out of 7,529,481 cancer patients. MedicalXpress says the patients had equal chances of dying from a stroke regardless of gender, but the higher risk of a fatal stroke was found among people who were diagnosed with cancer at a young age.

The researchers also found that most stroke incidents occurred in patients who underwent treatment for brain tumors and lymphomas before they turned 40. Meanwhile, fatal strokes are more likely to occur in patients who were diagnosed with prostate, breast, or colorectal cancer after reaching middle age.

Overall, 38% of the people suffering from 28 different cancers died due to their disease while 11% died from heart disease. The study concluded that patients and survivors of cancer of the breast, larynx, skin, Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid, testes, prostate, endometrium, bladder, vulva, and penis were at the same level of risk of dying from cardiovascular disease as they were with their initial cancer.

Surviving Cancer Puts You at Risk of Other Diseases

As more people survive cancer, they could be at a higher risk of developing and dying from other conditions, said study author Nicholas Zaorsky, who added that the risk from cardiovascular disease is higher for cancer patients.

The study, which also compared data of cancer patients and the general population, found that those who had cancer were two to six times more likely to die from heart diseases compared to otherwise healthy individuals. Zaorsky's work also showed that the risk was 10 times higher for people who were diagnosed before the age of 55 than the rest of the population.

"For younger cancer patients particularly, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is higher than the risk for the general population who have not had cancer," the author explained, as per British daily newspaper the Daily Mail.

"It means that doctors should be monitoring these people closely and perhaps referring them to cardiologists because their risk is higher after cancer for the rest of their lives."

However, the Daily Mail reports that the risks decrease over time as cancer survivors aged 75 to 84 are only 2.4 times more likely to die from heart disease than the rest of the population at the same age. It notes that this could be due to the fact the even people who never developed cancer are at a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease as they age.

As more people survive cancer, they could be at a higher risk of developing and dying from other conditions / Photo by: Chinnapong via Shutterstock

 

Unknown Cause

Martin Ledwick, head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, told The Telegraph that doctors should be made aware of the study as it indicates the need to closely monitor cancer patients following their treatment for the possible occurrence of heart disease and stroke.

However, Ledwick noted that the findings were not able to determine why certain cancer patients are at a higher risk of such diseases compared to others.

"For some, it might be treatment-related - radiotherapy to the chest and some chemotherapy drugs can lead to a higher risk of heart disease. But some of the cancers included in the study share lifestyle risk factors with cardiovascular disease, for example, obesity and smoking, which might also explain the increased risk."

This provides additional evidence as to why everyone should adopt a healthy lifestyle, Ledwick concluded.

The Penn State researchers said additional studies may help determine the mechanisms and further establish the association between cancer and strokes. With further research, scientists will be able to conclude if there are other factors in play aside from the known damaging side effects of specific anti-cancer treatments on the heart and blood vessels.

What is clear right now is the need for doctors to work together in an effort to minimize the risk of cancer survivors dying from a cardiovascular disease on the onset.