American Heart Association: Radiation, chemotherapy increase risk of heart failure

The American Heart Association put out a warning to women with breast cancer saying chemotherapy and radiation can increase the risk of heart failure and other serious cardiac problems years after treatment.

It’s a stark reality for nearly 48 million women across the country with some form of heart disease, plus the more than 3.3 million with breast cancer. 

“You take the good with the bad,” said cancer survivor Judith Gehrke of Minneapolis.

Gehrke was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when her son was one month old. 35 years later, she battled breast cancer just as her grandchildren were born.

“The motivation of those milestones were pretty key in my life,” Gehrke said.
While the cancer fights have been her focus, heart health remains a close runner-up. Radiation three decades ago built up calcium on her heart valves and aorta, causing permanent damage.
Dr. Suma Konety is Gehrek's cardiologist at University of Minnesota Health, specializing in cardio-oncology. She applauds a warning recently put out by the American Heart Association highlighting the risks that come along with radiation and chemotherapy.

Two of the mainstay medicines - doxorubicin and trastuzumab (commonly known as herceptin) - have been studied the most. While their intent is to kill the cancer cells, they can attack or block some of the healthy cells and lead to weakening of the heart muscle. 

“When patients are faced with the diagnosis of cancer, the eye is on the ball with fighting the cancer. What the scientific statement has brought to light is the heart needs to be cared for before, during and after breast cancer and other cancers as well." 

Now in remission, Gehrke will soon be getting a valve replacement. She's also proud to be part multiple studies at the university, which she and her family hope will help others. 

“He [Gerhrek’s son] said ' gotta be chasing those guys.. they run fast,'" she said.

Dr. Konety said the biggest takeaway from this is to have a conversation with your doctor and apply the Heart Association's seven simple steps, including lowering cholesterol, reducing sugar and daily exercise.