Heart disease: What it means for breast cancer survivors and how to prevent it

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As the world continues to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, experts say it’s important to consult with a doctor on not only preventing and treating breast cancer but also preventing other diseases.

As of 2020, heart disease is still the number one killer of women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a study released earlier this year, it was found that women with breast cancer were put at an increased risk of cardiovascular events and death from heart disease. 

Fortunately, many of the lifestyle changes recommended by doctors prevent both heart disease and breast cancer, according to the American Heart Association.

“It’s about exercise and diet,” said Dr. George Fernaine, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. “And I don’t mean weight lifting, you need to keep your heart rate up. You want to do 20 to 30 minutes a day, at least five to six to five days a week. But it has to be age-appropriate. Walking is an appropriate exercise for somebody in their eighties. Walking is not for somebody in their thirties. For a diet, you want to stay away from red meats and fried foods and eat a balanced diet of greens, vegetables, fruits and appropriate grain.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its recommendations for statin use. USPSTF guidelines now recommend statins for adults aged 40-75, without a history of heart disease but who have one or more heart disease risk factors (diabetes, hypertension, smoking), and a 10% or higher risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. The percentage of risk is calculated by your doctor. 

Dr. George Fernaine.NYU Langone Health

For adults with a slightly lower risk of heart disease (7.5% to 10% in the next 10 years), USPSTF recommends the patient to consult with their doctor about taking a statin, as lifestyle changes can often be a better course of treatment.

For adults aged 76 or older with no history of heart disease, USPSTF does not recommend a statin for the primary prevention of heart disease due to a lack of evidence that they would benefit the patient.

“For primary prevention, we don’t necessarily recommend a statin,” said Fernaine. “If you’ve had a heart attack, a stroke or some kind of vascular disease, then we would still recommend a statin. Most physicians will probably still, depending on cholesterol level and risk factors, recommend a statin. But, it’s not a hard recommendation anymore.”

Everyone should talk with their doctor about preventing heart disease, especially women with or who have had breast cancer. In lieu of new USPSTF guidelines, Fernaine said, it is even more important to regularly consult with your doctor so that you are receiving up-to-date information on how to keep yourself healthy.