Is There a Link Between Cancer and Heart Disease?

Cancer and heart disease

Death – it’s an inevitable part of life, but how it happens can reveal intriguing links. In America, heart disease and cancer top the list of fatal afflictions. At first glance, these killers seem worlds apart – one attacks the heart, the other through uncontrolled cell growth. But peek beneath the surface and surprising connections emerge. Understanding these nuanced interactions is key to preventing and treating these health issues.

While heart disease and cancer manifest differently, recognizing their overlap deepens our knowledge and helps combat top health threats. These two health conditions may indeed share more commonalities than you might imagine. So, let’s explore the secret ties between America’s two leading causes of demise – because knowing their covert schemes is half the battle to longer, healthier lives.

The Role of Lifestyle

Lifestyle habits clearly impact heart health, but they also are a factor in whether you get cancer. Certain cancers share risk factors with cardiovascular disease. For example, eating an unhealthy diet and limiting physical activity doesn’t just harm your heart – it raises cancer risk.

In fact, research correlated cardiovascular risk factors to a tripled risk of cancer over 15 years. And those with prior heart attacks saw cancer risk spike by 700%. While eye-opening, these statistics show association, not causation. Still, the patterns suggest overlapping prevention opportunities.

As science uncovers connections between heart disease and cancer development, lifestyle stands out as the common thread. Healthy living safeguards the heart and may prevent cancers too. Diet, exercise, and other choices affect our bodies in integrated ways. Viewing major diseases through this interconnected lens can help us make smarter lifestyle choices.

The Role of Inflammation: A Common Culprit

Inflammation is another factor common to both health problems. Science reveals that chronic low-grade inflammation quietly inflicts harm, setting the stage for both diseases. Damaged blood vessels are more prone to plaque buildup and clots driving heart attacks and strokes. Ongoing inflammation can stress your heart while also fueling cancer growth. Even on a biological level, these ailments share mechanisms like cellular oxidative damage from free radicals.

Meanwhile, the same inflammatory processes can promote cancer growth and metastasis. Inflammation supplies tumors with growth factors, disrupts DNA repair, and fosters an ideal microenvironment for cancer cells to proliferate. It’s like a stealth threat, operating under the radar to enable cardiovascular and cancer development.

Identifying inflammation as a shared driver opens new possibilities for prevention. Anti-inflammatory lifestyle changes like dietary shifts, exercise, and stress management may help prevent both.

The Role Hormones Play

Variations in hormone levels, commonly observed in individuals with heart disease, may also boost the susceptibility to cancer. It’s an intriguing connection, but we need more rigorous research to determine if these factors directly cause cancer alongside heart disease or are a bystander in these diseases.

One intriguing study found that people with heart failure, where their heart muscle is weakened and doesn’t pump as effectively, have hormonal factors in their bloodstream that promote tumor growth in animal studies. It’s an area that needs more research in humans.

Common Risk Factors: Dietary Choices, Physical Activity, Weight Management, and More

Then there are commonalities in risk factors. Studies show a set of shared risk factors predispose individuals to both heart disease and specific types of cancer. These risk factors include:

Dietary Choices:

The foods we eat hold a surprising power over health. More research reveals how dietary choices affect the risk of major diseases. Focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods – especially plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is one strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. There’s also evidence that a predominantly plant-based diet may deter certain cancers.  In contrast, highly refined products or empty calorie sources appear tied to disease development.

Physical Inactivity:

Our physical activity habits – or lack thereof – have profound health implications. Science confirms that a sedentary lifestyle elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart health suffers without regular exercise. But physical inactivity may have even broader effects. Emerging research suggests that too much time spent sitting could increase susceptibility to cancers as well. Movement seems to be a key missing ingredient for staying well.

Weight Management:

Carrying excess weight can compromise health in multiple ways. The body mass index, or BMI, remains a useful gauge – a reading of 25 or above often indicates increased disease risk. Though losing weight poses challenges, dropping BMI to a healthier range has tangible benefits.

Maintaining an appropriate weight lowers susceptibility to cardiovascular conditions. And emerging data reveals weight management also deters some cancers. We still need to better understand the mechanisms behind body weight and cancer, hormonal factors and inflammation likely play a role.

Visceral Fat:

Carrying too much waist or deep belly fat is a marker for insulin resistance, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Monitoring your waist size is one way to determine if you’re at higher risk. If you’re a male your waist size should be less than 40 inches and if you’re female, less than 35 inches.


Smoking is a well-established risk factor for both heart disease and various types of cancer, particularly lung cancer. Quitting smoking is one of the most impactful steps you can take for your health.

Environmental factors:

Studies show exposure to air pollution and other environmental factors, including phthalates in personal care products, may play a role in both cancer and cardiovascular disease. These factors increase inflammation and disrupt hormones in a way that may predispose to health issues.

The Power of Prevention

Though some disease risks are unavoidable, like age and genetics, lifestyle is a factor in most health problems. Science confirms that the same lifestyle measures guarding against heart disease may also deter cancer. By not smoking, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and staying active, we capitalize on risk factors within our control. Small positive changes accumulate over time for broader benefit.

A Heart-Healthy Lifestyle: Your Defense Against Both Foes

The intricate relationship between heart disease and cancer is compelling and includes shared risk factors and potential connections through inflammation and hormone fluctuations. Though many mysteries still surround both diseases, a lifestyle promoting heart wellness may also deter cancer.

When we choose nutritious foods, stay active, reduce stress, and maintain a healthy weight, we strengthen the body’s systems against these common threats. Each small positive choice chips away at risk factors within our control. That’s the power of leading a healthy lifestyle!


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Meijers WC, de Boer RA. Common risk factors for heart failure and cancer. Cardiovasc Res. 2019 Apr 15;115(5):844-853. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvz035. PMID: 30715247; PMCID: PMC6452432.

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Van’t Klooster CC, Ridker PM, Hjortnaes J, van der Graaf Y, Asselbergs FW, Westerink J, Aerts JGJV, Visseren FLJ. The relation between systemic inflammation and incident cancer in patients with stable cardiovascular disease: a cohort study. Eur Heart J. 2019 Dec 21;40(48):3901-3909. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz587. PMID: 31504409; PMCID: PMC6925382.

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