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Most childhood cancer survivors don't develop heart problems. But certain types of chemotherapy and radiation can raise your risk for them. Here's what you need to know to assess your risk and help keep your heart healthy.
Survivors who received a type of chemotherapy called anthracyclines or radiation to the chest, spine, stomach, or whole body are at risk for heart problems. Risk is highest for those who had high treatment doses, especially if both chemotherapy and radiation were given before puberty.
These treatments can damage the heart and cause the following problems:
If severe, these problems can be deadly. But very few survivors develop severe heart problems. In fact, most survivors who received anthracyclines or radiation to the heart or nearby areas don't have any heart damage at all. Others have very mild changes in heart function or size that doesn't worsen over time.
Mild to moderate heart problems may not have any symptoms. Symptoms of more severe heart trouble include the following:
Be sure to tell your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.
The good news is that you can lower your risk for heart problems by keeping a healthy lifestyle, such as:
It's also important to keep up with your regular medical check-ups so that any heart problems can be caught and treated early. Thus, if you were treated with anthracyclines or chest radiation you should have a yearly check-up. In addition, you'll undergo certain heart tests, such as electrocardiograms or MUGA scans, every 1 to 5 years. Finally, you might also undergo periodic stress testing by a cardiologist and regular blood tests to check for other factors that can put you at risk.
Make sure that your primary care doctor knows if you were treated with anthracyclines or chest radiation so that steps can be taken to reduce stress on your heart. Some drugs, high fever, and pregnancy can increase stress on the heart.