Why heart disease may increase risk of cancer

The number one and number two leading causes of death in the United States – heart disease and cancer, respectively – while different diseases, may have more links in common than previously known.

Study results

Research, conducted by the Framingham Heart Study, for 15 years studied close to 13,000 individuals without heart disease or cancer and discovered that those with a 10-year risk estimator score of 20% or higher had a three times greater risk of developing cancer than individuals with a 10-year score of 5% or lower.  The cancers these participants were more likely to develop included prostate, lung, and gastrointestinal. The researchers also found that individuals having had a heart attack, heart failure, or atrial fibrillation were seven times more likely to get cancer when compared to individuals without any heart issues.

What is an observational study?

This study was observational meaning that no intervention took place during the length of research. Participants are usually asked detailed questions about lifestyle habits several times over the course of the research. While observational studies are valuable allowing information to be gathered in a large population sample, over a long period of time, there are drawbacks.  Depending on participants’ memory and accuracy of reporting their behavior can be challenging to scientists. For these reasons, observational studies are most valuable in finding out whether factors are correlated, rather than determining with certainty which behavior caused a certain outcome. In other words, they do not definitively prove cause and effect.

Heart disease and cancer share overlapping risk factors

Despite the fact that an observational study does not prove cause and effect, it should be noted that heart disease and cancer share many risk factors which include a poor diet, lack of exercise, excess body fat (obesity), and smoking. These overlapping risk factors likely play a significant role in the beginnings of heart disease and cancer. It is also believed that inflammation plays a role in the development of heart disease that may cause changes in hormone levels, both of which might increase the risk of cancer.

Ways to reduce risk of both heart disease and cancer

The findings from this research are a good reminder that taking care of heart health may also lead to lowering your risk for cancer too. By keeping your heart healthy, you may possibly dodge a diagnosis of cancer.

To be on the safe side, adopting healthy lifestyle habits is always your best bet for reducing the development of both heart disease and cancer. Of course, there are some risk factors that you cannot change such as your age, race, gender, and family history. But by taking steps to lead a lifestyle that supports rather than undermines good health, you’ll be in a better position to avoid heart disease and cancer.

Here are healthy habits to adopt:

  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and lean protein
  • Exercise regularly, working up to at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise of at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Reach a healthy body weight and lose weight if necessary. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 to 24.9.
  • Quit all forms of tobacco – cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, hookahs, and chewing tobacco – or never take up the habit, to begin with.
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