The Link Between Heart Disease and Cancer

The Link Between Heart Disease and Cancer

February is American Heart Month, making it the perfect time to raise awareness about heart disease and its prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Cancer is the second.

Although they are two very different diseases, there may be a biological link between heart disease and cancer.

Shared Risk Factors

Researchers have identified factors that increase a person’s risk for both cancer and heart disease. Certain risk factors cannot be manipulated, such as age, race and sex. However, there are some factors that a person has greater control of.

  • Obesity — According to the CDC, 13 types of cancer are associated with obesity and weight gain. Similarly, obesity is linked to a higher risk for cardiac problems, such as heart disease.
  • Diet — Doctors widely recommend that people try to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Although no one can adhere to a healthy diet all the time, a consistently unhealthy diet can lead to an increased risk for both cancer and heart disease.
  • Tobacco use — Tobacco use has been strongly linked to higher risk of disease. The nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco promote irritants, oxidizing agents, inflammatory stimuli and carcinogens. These abnormalities can wreak havoc on the coronary system and put a person at significantly higher risk of many different types of cancer.
  • Diabetes — Diabetes affects systems throughout the body. Numerous studies have linked diabetes to cancer risk and progression, as well as a higher risk for heart disease.
  • Chronic inflammation — In cancer, inflammation promotes the formation of carcinogens and progression of tumors. Inflammation can be caused by various conditions, including obesity, hypertension and hyperglycemia. It’s hypothesized to be a main reason for the shared risk factors between heart disease and cancer.


Although heart disease and cancer are unique diagnoses, the extensive overlap in risk factors indicates a common molecular network. Some risk factors for both cancer and heart disease cannot be controlled, but improving a person’s overall health could help reduce their chance of contracting these life-threatening diseases.