Healthy Hearts After a Cancer Diagnosis

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By: Alis Bonsignore BSc, MSc., Research Analyst, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network; Doctoral Student, Department of Exercise Sciences, University of Toronto

The number of people diagnosed with cancer is growing in Canada. At the same time, there are now better ways to diagnose and treat cancer. As a result, more cancer survivors are living longer. However, the impact of cancer treatment on the heart is a major health concern. Some cancer treatments have a direct effect on heart health and for some people, lifestyle changes that occur after cancer (i.e., weight gain, reduced physical activity) also affect heart health. As such, following a heart healthy lifestyle can help to prevent heart health problems and help manage the cardiac issues associated with a cancer diagnosis.

These lifestyle factors can reduce the risk of cardiac issues after cancer:

  • have a healthy weight,
  • eat a healthy diet,
  • quit smoking,
  • reduce alcohol intake (less than 1-2 drinks per day),
  • stress management

Also, regular physical activity following a diagnosis of cancer may also help to improve cardiac health (reduce high blood pressure, lower resting heart rate and improve cholesterol levels). Regular physical activity should be a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity (i.e., two to three hours a week of brisk walking) aerobic activity. Lastly, regular medical check-ups with your family doctor to monitor cardiac risk factors including blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels will also ensure that if a cardiac issue arises, that it will be detected and treated as early as possible.