People who have had heart attacks are also at high risk for certain cancers because the same lifestyle factors increase risk for both and appear to be far more important than genetics in determining your likelihood to suffer both conditions. It works both ways. People who are at 20 percent increased risk for suffering a heart attack in 10 years are three times more likely to develop cancer in 10 years, and those who developed a heart attack, heart failure or atrial fibrillation are seven times more likely to develop a cancer in the same 10 years (Circulation, Nov 11, 2019;140:A12269). A 13-year follow-up study of people who have survived heart attacks showed that they are at significantly increased risk for developing cancers (Eur Heart J, Feb 14, 2020;40(48):3910-3912).
Heart diseases and some types of cancers have many of the same risk factors:
• not exercising
• not eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds
• eating a lot of sugar-added foods and drinks, mammal meat, processed meats and fried foods
• taking more than two alcoholic drinks a day
• storing extra fat in the belly
• having systolic blood pressure >120 at bedtime
• having bad LDL cholesterol >100
• being diabetic
The 10-year risk for people developing cancer or heart attacks with an unhealthful lifestyle was 40 percent for men and 25 percent for women, compared to 30 percent for the men and 18 percent for the women with healthful lifestyles (BMC Medicine, Jan 15, 2020;18(5)).
Driven by Inflammation
An excellent review of studies on the subject shows that both heart attacks and certain cancers can be caused by the same mechanism called inflammation (Eur Heart J, 2019;40(48):3910-3912). Inflammation changes the bacteria in your colon to form heart attack-provoking plaques in arteries (Circ Res 2019;124:94–100) and the DNA in cells to increase cancer risk (Nature, 2014;510:92–101). The biggest advance in knowledge about the prevention of heart attacks since the discovery of statins shows that blocking inflammation prevents both heart attacks and certain cancers (Lancet, August 27, 2017). Drugs that block inflammation have shown promise in treating cancers (J Clin Invest, 2019;129:2964–2979); see Reduce Inflammation to Help Prevent Cancer
Your body uses inflammation to protect you from invading germs and to heal injuries. When a germ gets into your body, you make cells and proteins to kill that germ. As soon as the germ is gone, your immune system is supposed to dampen down and stop making large amounts of these cells, antibodies and proteins. Chronic inflammation means that your immunity does not stop working, even though there are no germs that need fighting or injuries that need to be healed. Your immune system stays active and uses the same cells and proteins that kill germs to attack and damage your own cells. Chronic inflammation can lead to:
• Heart attacks: The same immune chemicals that dissolve the outer membranes of bacteria can dissolve the inner linings of your arteries to punch holes in them and start the formation of plaques. A heart attack occurs when a plaque breaks off from the inner lining of an artery leading to your heart, travels down an ever-narrowing artery, and prevents blood from reaching parts of your heart muscle. If you do not die during a heart attack, the part of your heart muscle deprived of oxygen dies and is replaced by scar tissue.
• Cancers: An overactive immunity can attack cells to damage the genetic material called DNA. The abnormal DNA that results can turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
The most effective safe treatment to reduce inflammation is an anti-inflammatory lifestyle that includes:
• trying to exercise every day
• avoiding red meat, processed meat, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks including fruit juices, and fried foods
• eating large amounts of fruits, vegetables and seeds
• losing excess body fat, particularly in the belly
• keeping blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 20 ng/dL
• restricting or avoiding alcohol
• avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke
• avoiding chronic exposure to excess sunlight
• avoiding exposure to X rays and other sources of radiation, and exposure to harmful chemicals such as certain insecticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals
• treating chronic infections anywhere in the body
Coronary Calcium Scores: Once a year for 10 years, 6,814 people received Coronary Artery Calcium Score tests using X rays to measure the amount of plaques in their arteries, to predict their chances for suffering a heart attack (Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging, December 2015). The participants were ages 45-84 and free of heart disease at the beginning of the study. The results showed that those with persistent coronary calcium scores of zero were at very low risk for heart disease.
The authors also reported that high coronary calcium scores were associated with increased risk of cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic kidney disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging, March 9, 2016). By the end of the 10 year study, 1,238 of the 6,814 people had been diagnosed with prostate, lung, gastrointestinal/colon, breast, skin, blood or uterine/ovarian cancers, kidney disease, pneumonia, a blood clot, lung disease, dementia or a hip fracture. In those with a calcium score of zero, the incidence of these diseases was very low. At a calcium score of 400, a person had five time the chances of suffering a heart attack, cancers or kidney or lung damage.
The authors conclude that, “Coronary artery calcium score is a direct measurement of the cumulative effect of all risk factors, rather than a consideration of a single risk factor, like obesity, smoking or high blood pressure.” A chronic overactive immunity, called inflammation, causes plaques to form in arteries to cause heart attacks and strokes. It also damages the genetic material in cells, leading to cancers, and damages the kidneys and lungs.