A Broken Heart can Lead to Cancer

Research shows that, if you’ve had a broken heart, you may have a 1 in 6 chance of getting cancer.

New international research published in the in Journal of the American Heart Association, shows one in six people with broken heart syndrome had cancer – and they were less likely to survive for five years after it occurred.

So, what is broken heart syndrome? The Mayo Clinic describes it as a temporary heart condition often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. The condition also can be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they have a heart attack. [1]

In broken heart syndrome, there’s a temporary disruption of your heart’s normal pumping function in one area of the heart. The remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Broken heart syndrome may be caused by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones.

Doctors also may call the condition takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy. The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in days or weeks.

Of 1,604 patients with BHS in the International Takotsubo Registry, 267 patients – 1 in 6 – had cancer. The most frequent type of malignancy was breast cancer, followed by tumors affecting the gastrointestinal system, respiratory tract, internal sex organs, and skin. The average age of those in the study was 69.5 years, and 87.6% were female. [2]

“Patients with broken heart syndrome might benefit if screened for cancer to improve their overall survival,” said Christian Templin, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and director of Interventional Cardiology of the Andreas Grüntzig Heart Catheterization Laboratories at the University Heart Center in Zurich, Switzerland.

“Our study also should raise awareness among oncologists and hematologists that broken heart syndrome should be considered in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis or treatment who experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormalities on their electrocardiogram,” he said.

Researchers said the relationship between broken heart syndrome and cancer has not been fully explored, and while they did not find causation, they contend a link exists between the two.

This is not necessarily a cause for alarm if you have broken heart syndrome. Patients with BHS, however, may want a screening to test for cancer.

“A substantial number of [broken heart syndrome] patients show an association with malignancy,” the study noted. “History of malignancy might increase the risk for [broken heart syndrome], and therefore, appropriate screening for malignancy should be considered in these patients.”

The study was too small to analyze whether patients with the syndrome and cancer might be due to a specific type or stage of cancer, or the cancer treatments received. Templin said more research is needed into how cancer and its treatment, chemotherapy, in particular, relate to takotsubo syndrome.

“The mechanism by which malignancy and cancer treatment may promote the development of broken heart syndrome should be explored, and our findings provide an additional reason to investigate the potential cardiotoxic effects of chemotherapy,” he said.


[1] Broken heart syndrome.

[2] Clinical Features and Outcomes of Patients With Malignancy and Takotsubo Syndrome: Observations From the International Takotsubo Registry.

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