Cardiovascular (CVD) disease—including heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, and other problems—is one of the long-term consequences of thyroid cancer. There are several contributing factors to this association, all related to the disease itself and its treatment. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease can occur even when thyroid cancer is adequately treated.
What poses a risk to your cardiovascular health
There are several reasons for the association between thyroid cancer and cardiovascular disease. Thyroid cancer can have a variety of physical effects, some of which directly contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems.
Several treatments used to treat thyroid cancer also contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.
After surgery to remove the thyroid, and in some cases, after treatment with radioactive iodine, you may be prescribed high doses of levothyroxine. This medication is a thyroid hormone replacement and is used in high doses (called supraphysiological doses) to suppress thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Maintaining very low or undetectable TSH levels can prevent thyroid cancer from coming back.
However, the use of supraphysiological doses of levothyroxine is also strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and atrial fibrillation.
A recent retrospective analysis showed that removal of thyroid cancer by complete thyroidectomy was associated with a lower risk of cancer recurrence, but a slightly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Used to treat thyroid cancer, radioactive iodine binds and destroys thyroid cancer tissue as well as normal tissue in the thyroid. Radioactive iodine therapy is associated with a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease after thyroid cancer, but the reasons are unclear.
The additive effects of thyroid cancer and its treatment mean that if you have or have had thyroid cancer, cardiovascular disease is a real problem.
Effects of Thyroid Cancer
Managing Your Cardiovascular Risk When You Have Thyroid Cancer
If you have or have had thyroid cancer, it is important to understand that adequate cancer treatment does not mean that you no longer need to deal with certain complications of cancer.
While it can be frustrating to know that your cancer’s effects don’t really go away after tumor treatment, risk factors for cardiovascular disease can be effectively managed.
It’s important to keep regular doctor visits with your healthcare provider, as annual physicals usually include measuring your blood pressure and evaluating your heart rhythm (this can help your healthcare provider detect atrial fibrillation). That said, if you experience any symptoms that concern you, don’t hesitate to make an appointment in advance.
If you have signs of heart disease or high blood pressure, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to regulate your heart rate, optimize your blood pressure, or reduce your risk of developing blood clots.
If you have or have had thyroid cancer, you should know that there are several types of thyroid cancer, and the prognosis depends on which type you have. When dealing with cancer treatment, you also need to be aware of how cancer and thyroid function affect your health. With attention, the effects of thyroid cancer and thyroid disease can be managed to reduce the impact of your condition on your overall health.