New Research Finds Possible Breast Cancer–Heart Disease Link

Breast cancer and heart disease risk could be related, according to a new study.

December 26, 2011

Women who are genetically predisposed to breast cancer need to pay extra attention to their hearts.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you might consider visiting your cardiologist more frequently, a new Canadian study suggests.


Women carry two genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, that normally suppress the growth of breast and ovarian tumors, but heredity can cause mutations in those genes and increase a woman's risk of cancer. During their research, the authors, who published their study in the journal Nature Communications, found that those same genes regulate heart function.

The second part of their study, albeit conducted on mice, found that animals with mutations in those genes had a three- to fivefold higher rate of premature death due to profound heart failure than mice without the gene. The heart failure was a result of heart attacks that were twice as severe in the mice with the mutated gene.

"Our findings suggest that individuals who are at risk of breast cancer may also be at a previously unrecognized risk of heart disease," said lead author Subodh Verma, MD, a scientist in the Keenan Research Centre of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital, in an accompanying statement. "More importantly, we now understand that breast cancer and heart disease have a common biological basis, a common soil."

Animal studies always need to be replicated in people before any concrete links can be established, but it never hurts to protect your heart, particularly if you have certain inherited risk factors. Scientists have identified four healthy habits that can reduce your risk of heart disease, along with cancer and diabetes. The factors included:

1. Not smoking
2. Having a BMI (body mass index) below 30
3. Getting at least 3.5 hours a week of physical activity
4. Eating a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in meat.

Tags: heart health
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