Heart disease and cancer are two of the major causes of death in America. Scientists are now saying that having one of the disorders may increase a person’s risk of developing the other.
Research which will be presented at the 2019 Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in Philadelphia showed that a heart attack may raise the risk of having cancer. People with more cardiovascular risk factors were found to be at a greater risk for developing cancer.
A high reading of the 10-year atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk metric suggested a significantly increased risk of developing cancer.
“It’s a double whammy,” said Emily Lau, the lead author of the study. “Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the United States. We now recognize that they are intimately linked.”
The cardiology fellow at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital stated that the findings suggested the need for physicians to do more. Doctors have to be more “aggressive” in checking cardiovascular risk factors to fight both killer disorders.
The Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association is an annual event where researchers present the latest findings and advances in cardiovascular science.
Heart disease and cancer connection
Scientists made use of Framingham Heart Study data in this research. Specifically, they used the data of more than 12,700 participants who had neither of the disorders when the study started. These subjects had an average age of about 51 years.
The researchers assessed cardiovascular risk using the Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD) Risk Estimator of the American College of Cardiology. They combined that tool with an examination of biomarkers, substances that appear in the blood when there is heart damage.
The ASCVD risk estimator helps to foretell the risk of a person developing heart disease in the next 10 years.
There were 1,670 cases of cancer over the study period of almost 15 years. The most common cancer forms reported were: gastrointestinal, breast, prostate, and lung cancers.
Researchers observed independent associations of some risk factors for heart disease with cancer. The factors included smoking, high blood pressure, age, and sex.
Subjects with a 10-year ASCVD risk score of at least 20 percent had more than three times the likelihood of developing any cancer type, compared to those with a reading of 5 percent or lower.
Participants who had cardiovascular issues, such as a heart attack or heart failure, showed considerably greater risk for cancer. The risk of these individuals developing cancer later was greater than sevenfold, compared to those with no cardiac complaint.
Elevated BNP may hint at greater cancer risk
The current research is the first to show that a high level of BNP at baseline may indicate future risk of having cancer. This is according to Tochi M. Okwuosa, D.O., vice-chair of the AHA Council on Clinical Cardiology and Genomics and Precision Medicine Cardio-Oncology Sub-committee.
BNP refers to B-type or brain natriuretic peptide. The heart produces this substance when there is heart failure, thereby increasing its levels.
The researchers found that elevated BNP levels made some subjects to be more likely to have cancer during a follow-up period of 15 years, compared to those with low levels.
“I think it’s interesting that BNP, a cardiac marker linked to heart failure risk, was associated with the risk of cancer in the future,” Okwuosa said. “Currently we use BNP to determine if a person has developed heart failure from chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer.”
Both heart disease and cancer share many risk factors in common, the researchers noted. Lau revealed their next focus is to discover the biological mechanisms that may be responsible for the seeming connection between both disorders.
Considering certain cardiovascular risk factors also increases the risk for cancer, lifestyle changes to check those factors may help prevent cancer as well. The researchers recommend following Life’s Simple 7 of the AHA, which includes maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active, and quitting smoking.
The current research is only an observational study. Lau said it was not proof of cause and effect.