Cardiotoxicity: Heart Damage Caused by Cancer Treatment

Cancer drugs and treatments can cause direct damage to the heart. This is known as cardiotoxicity. In the past, patients were focused on recovering from cancer, but today, with the increase in cancer survivorship, the incidence of heart issues associated with chemotherapy and radiation has increased.

Symptoms of Cardiotoxicity

Cardiotoxicity can occur years after cancer treatment. Children who have been treated with chemotherapy or radiation often develop heart issues later in life. In fact, those with childhood cancer have a 5-7 percent chance of having heart issues as adults, including heart disease and hypertension.

Symptoms of a potential heart issue related to cardiotoxicity may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fluid retention in the legs
  • Distention of the stomach
  • Dizziness

Cancer drugs can cause many cardiac issues, including heart failure, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, slow heart rate or fluid around the heart. About one-third of cancer patients who receive chemotherapy drugs such as trastuzuman (Herceptin) and anthrycyclines will experience damage to their heart cells.

Radiation therapy to the chest can cause fibrosis (thickening or scarring of tissue), which can lead to heart valve disease, heart attack and thickening of the pericardium (the lining of the heart), leading to a condition called constrictive paricarditis. This could impact patients being treated for such conditions as leukemia, left-side breast cancer or anyone who receives direct radiation to the left chest area.

Oncologists and cardiologists at the U-M Cardio-Oncology Clinic evaluate patients at risk for heart disease or those who have developed cardiotoxicity as a result of cancer treatment. Without interrupting treatment, they work to identify and address cardiovascular risks and reduce the toxic effects of cancer therapies on the heart. (View Thrive magazine, a publication for cancer patients and their caregivers.)

More Information About Cardiotoxicity

The following scholarly articles have more information about cardiotoxicity:

Patient Resources

Heart Failure Information Guide

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment for heart or vascular care or to consult with a physician about a cardiotoxicity issue, call the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center New Patient Coordination Center at 888-287-1082.