A new study has revealed that not only are cancer and atrial fibrillation linked, certain types of cancers may increase one’s risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
The study, presented in March 2020 at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology (ACC.20/WCC), explored data from over 140 million cancer patients. Scientists found that all patients had a 2.3 fold higher risk of having atrial fibrillation, and those with colon, prostate, lung, and breast cancers were most at risk for developing the heart condition. It’s known that atrial fibrillation (or AFib) poses a major risk to cancer patients. Cancer patients with AFib have an increased risk of hemorrhage and thrombosis (formation of blood clots).
“Based on our findings, certain patients should be considered at higher risk of [atrial fibrillation] and may benefit from cardiac evaluation and appropriate treatments, whether it be with medication or ablative techniques, to help improve the survival rates in the long-term,” said study lead investigator Muhammad Khan, MD, of St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA.
Atrial fibrillation and cancer in detail
Khan and his team decided to dig deeper and find out exactly which types of cancer were more likely to cause atrial fibrillation. The researchers controlled for cardiovascular risk factors as well as other conditions which affect the heart such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. The researchers found that patients with all cancers had a 2.3 fold higher risk of atrial fibrillation, while those with prostate, colon, lung, and breast cancers had the highest risk of developing AFib. They also found that patients with both AFib and cancer had an increased death rate as well.
“When we looked at everyone with some form of AFib, those with certain types of cancer were more likely to have heart rhythm abnormalities, and this trend persisted even after accounting for other cardiovascular risk factors and disease,” said Khan.
Theories for the association
Khan was particularly surprised to find that patients with prostate cancer had the highest incidence of atrial fibrillation. The researchers weren’t sure exactly why this was the case, but one theory they came up with was that patients are usually diagnosed with both AFib and prostate cancer at around the same age: 66 years. Since both conditions have a similar age of onset, noted Khan, patients usually have more comorbidities which may contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation.
As for the fact that all cancer patients involved in the study had a higher risk of developing AFib, the researchers had a theory for that too. They questioned whether certain cancer treatments could be possible triggers for the heart condition. Specific types of chemotherapy and cancer drugs are known to cause heart damage, and possibly atrial fibrillation as well.
To sum up
- Researchers discovered that patients with cancer had a 2.3 fold increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
- Patients with breast, lung, colon, or prostate cancer in particular had the highest risk of developing the condition, and out of all the cancer patients, those with prostate cancer were most at risk for AFib.
- Patient age and treatment options may play a role in the link between the two diseases.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld