Heart care key to long term health of cancer survivors

New research out of Flinders has revealed cancer survivors require more care, awareness and management of other health conditions – in particular cardiovascular disease – to help them live longer after cancer treatment.

Professor Bogda Koczwara published the findings of a research project funded through a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant…made possible thanks to your generous donations to cancer research, prevention and care at Flinders. 

In the study, Prof Koczwara, who is a medical oncologist and staff specialist at Flinders Medical Centre, examined data from 32,000 patients with cancer with a range of cancer types who survived at least five years after a cancer diagnosis.

She found mortality rates for people with cancer were higher than the general population – but a significant portion of them died of non-cancer causes, with the majority of those deaths due to cardiovascular disease.

“Mortality from cardiovascular disease for survivors of cancer was significantly higher than what we would expect for general population,” Prof Koczwara explains.

“We suspect multiple reasons for this observation; including biologic - some form of interaction between cancer and cardiovascular disease, as they share common risk factors; and also some of the cancer treatments have cardio-toxic effects.”

Prof Koczwara also said there could be, what she refers to as, a ‘health service effect’ whereby cardiovascular health is not seen as much of a priority as cancer during cancer treatment and care:

“Patients with cancer are busy already and they often have a lot of other appointments, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and scans.

“Patients may discount other health conditions and really concentrate on cancer care, and health providers may do the same thing, so there is a possibility that when we pay attention to cancer care we neglect other health problems to our detriment.”

Prof Koczwara said these findings were important and would help guide improvements in care for patients in future.

“If we want cancer survivors to live a long and healthy life and have a life expectancy that is equivalent of the general population, then we need to address not just their cancer mortality but also mortality from other conditions, in particular cardiovascular disease,” she says.

Additional care could focus on more ‘cardio-oncology services’ and collaboration between cardiologists and oncologists, making sure patients were more connected to their GPs following treatment, and also equipping patients with self-management support and resources.

Prof Koczwara flagged the new Cancer Wellness Centre at Flinders as one such resource of support:

“A big part of prevention of cardiovascular disease in cancer is reduction of risk factors such as obesity, inactivity, smoking, depression and increase capacity for self-management – a wellness centre is a great way of consolidating support for patients to focus on these areas.”

Interested in hearing more about Professor Bogda Koczwara’s research? Listen to her podcast with the Medical Journal of Australia here

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