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More evidence links broken heart syndrome to cancer

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Broken heart syndrome is a serious medical problem that can be triggered by physical or emotional stress. For 1 in 6 people, it's also connected to cancer, according to a new study.

In people with the ailment, also known as takotsubo syndrome, the heart's main pumping chamber temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump well. It may feel like a heart attack, with chest pain and shortness of breath. But the heart muscle is not damaged, and coronary arteries are not blocked.

Its exact causes are unclear. Most people make a full recovery within weeks.

Previous studies have explored the syndrome's connection with cancer, but this study provides the strongest association yet.

Senior author Dr. Christian Templin said the findings, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, suggest people with broken heart syndrome should be screened for cancer.

"Our study also should raise awareness among oncologists and hematologists that broken heart syndrome should be considered in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis or treatment who experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormalities on their electrocardiogram," Templin, director of interventional cardiology at the University Heart Center Zurich at The University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, said in a news release.

In the international study of 1,604 people with broken heart syndrome, 267 had cancer. The most frequent type was breast cancer, followed by tumors affecting the gastrointestinal system, respiratory tract, internal sex organs and skin.

Researchers found people with cancer were less likely to have experienced an emotional trigger for the syndrome and more likely to die within five years after the syndrome began.

The study was too small to analyze whether the worse prognosis in patients with the syndrome and cancer might be due to a specific type or stage of cancer, or the cancer treatments received. Templin said more research is needed into how cancer and its treatment, chemotherapy in particular, relate to takotsubo syndrome.

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If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org. American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association.

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