Smart Woman: Protecting Your Heart After Breast Cancer - WSET.com - ABC13

Smart Woman: Protecting Your Heart After Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.

More than a million cases are diagnosed each year. While better treatment and technology are helping more women beat the disease, those same life-saving treatments could be harming their hearts.

Darla Morin is no stranger to this hospital room.

"I spent my lunch hour for four weeks here," she said.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer, but after a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she can finally say she's cancer free. Close to three- million women in the U.S. are breast cancer survivors.

Radiation Oncologist at the University of Washington, Christine Phang, says doctors and researchers now have to place a greater emphasis on advances that can minimize long-term side-effects of our cancer treatments.

One of these side effects is an increased risk of heart disease. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine says radiation can make arteries more likely to harden and clog, leading to heart attack, and can also cause valve and rhythm problems.

These risks can last for decades after the treatment is over.

One thing breast cancer patients can do to protect their hearts: hold their breath for 20 seconds while they're given radiation.

"This actually expands the lungs and pushes the heart out of the way away from the breast and also out of the radiation beam," Dr. Phang said.

Exercise during and after treatment is also important, especially for women with risk factors like diabetes. Finally, stock up on flaxseed. The vitamins and the omega-three fats in the seeds lower the risk of heart disease.

Studies show it can also help some treatments work better and slow cancer cell growth.

Also doctors say to stay away from saturated and trans fats, which are linked to heart disease and cancer recurrence.

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