Certain types of treatments used in patients with cancer may cause heart failure. These include some types of chemotherapy, chest radiotherapy and some of the newer targeted cancer treatments, also known as biological therapies.

Such cancer treatments may cause heart problems that are either temporary (short-term) or permanent (long-term). Problems may develop during or soon after cancer treatment, or they may develop many years later. The risk of heart problems depends on the type and length of cancer treatment.

Your risk of developing heart failure may be higher if:

  • you already have a heart problem before starting cancer treatment
  • you have other risk factors for heart problems e.g. smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, older age
  • you need several cancer treatments that affect the heart
  • you previously received cancer treatment, which affected your heart, and now require further treatment
  • you were a child when you had cancer treatment

If you have heart failure and now need cancer treatment, you should speak to your oncologist and cardiologist for guidance. Doctors and nurses are aware that cancer treatment may sometimes lead to signs and symptoms of heart failure, even in patients with no previous heart problems, and may be able to adjust the type of cancer treatment in patients with previous heart failure.

Effective investigations, such as echocardiograms and blood tests, can evaluate your heart function and detect signs of heart failure at an early stage. The side effects of any necessary cancer therapies are usually short-term and occur during or shortly after treatment. Any symptoms, including shortness of breath or fluid retention, should be discussed with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. See Warning Signs.

For more information, please take a look at the ‘Heart Health and Cancer Treatment’ information booklet from Macmillan.