One out of every eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer — that’s about 12 percent of the female population in this country. Men are at risk for this deadly disease as well, with over 2,500 emerging cases every year.

A March 2019 study published in Heart Rhythm shows that having breast cancer can increase your risk of another condition that affects millions of people in the U.S. — atrial fibrillation (AFib). 

What is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation is a relatively common condition that causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to beat rapidly and in an uncontrolled manner (fibrillation).

This uncoordinated, fast beat of the heart affects the blood flow, causing an irregular pulse and sometimes a “fluttering” feeling in the chest.

Symptoms of AFib might include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Slurred speech

What is the Link Between AFib and Breast Cancer?

The study looked at around 75,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer and almost 225,000 women who did not have the condition. They found that:

  • Women under 60 were two times as likely to develop atrial fibrillation within six months of their diagnosis. They have an 80 percent higher risk from six months to three years.

What Puts Women With Breast Cancer at Risk of AFib?

It’s not clear why but one possible factor is inflammation throughout the body that can occur with the disease. Other possibilities include fluid shifts and hemodynamic perturbations associated with breast cancer. There is some indication AFib may occur in early-stage breast cancer because of the chemotherapy as well.

A report published in the JAMA network suggests that women with early-stage breast cancer have a significantly higher risk, especially when undergoing some forms of chemotherapy. AFib is less likely during years two through five of the disease.

For most breast cancer sufferers, atrial fibrillation will be temporary. Still, the interaction between cancer and atrial fibrillation is complex and not something you should ignore.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and get a mammogram to make sure you are healthy. Early detection is the key to surviving this deadly disease. 

If you or a loved one are living with a heart rhythm disorder such as atrial fibrillation, contact Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. Our team of EP doctors has been helping patients across the Tampa area manage heart rhythm disorders for years, and they are ready to help you discover what is possible.