Your heart after childhood cancer

Your heart after childhood cancer

Some childhood cancer treatments can affect your heart. If this happens, having your heart checked is important. 

Key points to remember about your heart after childhood cancer

This page is written for young people who have had cancer treatment.

  • some chemotherapy medicines and radiation can affect your heart
  • if you have had a type of chemotherapy medicine called anthracyclines, or radiation, you will need to have your heart checked
  • heart checks happen during treatment and sometimes for many years after treatment has finished

Which childhood cancer treatments can affect my heart?

If you have had a type of chemotherapy medicine called anthracyclines, or radiation, you will need to have your heart checked.

If you have had a type of chemotherapy medicine called anthracyclines, or radiation, you will need to have your heart checked. Heart checks happen during treatment and sometimes for many years after treatment has finished.

Those most commonly used anthracyclines in children's cancer treatment are doxorubicin, daunorubicin, epirubicin, idarubicin and mitozantrone.

How can childhood cancer treatments affect my heart?

Anthracyclines can cause damage to the heart muscle on the left side (left ventricle or chamber) of your heart. This can make it harder for your heart to pump blood around your body.

High dose radiation can sometimes damage some parts of the heart - the heart muscle, heart valves and the lining of the blood vessels in and around the heart.

How will I know if my heart is affected after childhood cancer treatments?

You will need a special ultrasound scan of your heart. This is called an echocardiogram and can show any problems. You may have already had an echocardiogram. If you are at higher risk of problems, you may have an echocardiogram every few years. If you have a low risk, you may only need one or two.

If the echocardiogram shows you have a problem, you will see a heart specialist (cardiologist). They will check your heart and may give you medicine to help your heart function better.

Everyone is different and your oncology doctor is the best person to talk to about this.

What can I do to stay healthy after childhood cancer?

See Long-term follow-up and your health after childhood cancer for advice about keeping healthy.

Keeping fit, eating well, not gaining too much weight, and having regular health checks are all important ways of looking after your heart. Exercise is great - it's a good idea to check with your family doctor before starting any exercise programme.

Make sure you don't ever smoke or use recreational drugs. Recreational drugs like cocaine can cause rapid heart rate and irregular heartbeat, especially if your heart is already damaged.

Make sure your healthcare provider knows the treatment you had, so they can check your heart health - remember to give them a copy of your treatment summary ('health passport'), available from your LEAP team. Check the LEAP contacts at An introduction to long-term follow-up after childhood cancer

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 13 November 2019.
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