Surgery is an effective way to remove the diseased tissue from cancer patients, but, unfortunately, some mesothelioma patients will discover they’re not good candidates. For those who need to turn to more mesothelioma treatment options, both chemotherapy and radiation can luckily be very valuable avenues. These forms of therapy are designed to kill off abnormal cells from the disease.
Unfortunately, the effects of these treatments are rarely isolated to the areas where they’re supposed to work. Sure, they kill abnormal cells, but they can sometimes hurt healthy, functional cells as well. This can lead to side effects such as gastrointestinal problems and fatigue. And the real kicker is that both chemotherapy and radiation can have a negative impact on heart health.
How do cancer treatments affect your heart?
When it comes to chemotherapy for malignant mesothelioma treatment, the combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed is one of the most common regimens that doctors prescribe to patients. Both of these medications hurt the cancer cells’ abilities to grow and multiply.
However, they can also affect the cardiovascular system. People who are allergic to cisplatin may experience fast heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, difficulty breathing or other symptoms. Fast heartbeat is also a potential side effect of pemetrexed.
Depending on where they’re applied, radiation treatments may also have a negative impact on the heart. Some patients may develop atherosclerosis, which is associated with narrower arteries, reduced blood flow and blood clots. Doxorubicin, a medication that scientists have experimented with for mesothelioma treatment, may be particularly problematic. It’s been linked to weakening of the heart muscle and eventual heart failure.
What’s difficult about this news is that the studies on the subject are mixed, which makes it hard for the medical community to make standard recommendations that can protect patients’ cardiac health. However, research is ongoing. One panel of scientists, convened by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, reviewed several studies on the topic of chemotherapy and heart health. They concluded that more studies are needed to determine what kinds of patients are most vulnerable, and how doctors can screen them when making treatment decisions.
How can you and your doctors protect your heart?
Much of this research is still in its earliest stages, but if you’re worried about how your mesothelioma treatment may affect your heart health, share your concerns with your doctor. He or she can assess different factors – family history, cholesterol, blood pressure, concurrent medications and so on – that can inform the decision about what avenue of therapy is right for you.
In the meantime, consider changing a few aspects of your lifestyle. Typically, this could mean adopting a low-fat diet, but because cancer is a disease that can drain a lot of energy from you, this may not always be appropriate. Talk to your doctor about how concerns about heart health may affect your diet during mesothelioma treatment.
Physical activity is also considered an important dimension of cardiovascular wellness. Not only does it maintain your body’s ability to use oxygen, but it may also improve your mood and pain management. Moderate exercise activities, such as brisk walking, may be beneficial. Again, a physician can help you determine what’s appropriate.