Large study links heart-healthy lifestyle to a reduced risk of cancer

A man and woman exercise outdoors in masks and exchange an elbow bump.

Researchers have known for some time that a heart-healthy lifestyle, including working with a doctor on ways to support a healthy heart and circulatory system, helps patients reduce the risk for a heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. A large study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology found the same strategies to support a healthy heart are associated with a reduced risk for cancer years later.

The study followed 20,305 middle-aged adults for about 15 years and observed connections between cardiovascular risks and 2,548 future cancer incidents. The researchers studied all forms of cancer except skin cancer. Age, sex, and a history of smoking each provided clues for cancer risk. Results from tools that doctors use to detect heart disease, including a 10-year calculator for atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, and natriuretic peptides, a marker for cardiac stress and heart failure, also overlapped with future cancer incidents. Adults who had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, or who later experienced a heart attack or stroke, didn’t have a higher cancer risk. However, adults who maintained a heart-healthy lifestyle had a reduced cancer risk. These scores were based on assessments of diet, exercise, not smoking, and metabolic health.

The study, supported by the NHLBI, suggests a connection between shared risks for cardiovascular disease and cancer, but more research is needed to explore the mechanisms behind this link, the researchers said.