Cancer survivors more than twice as likely to die from stroke

    21 November 2019

    People living with, or having survived cancer are more likely to die from stroke than the general public, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

    The researchers found that compared to the general population, people who have or have had cancer are more than twice as likely to die of a stroke, and the risk increases with time. Cancers of the breast, prostate or colorectum were the type most commonly associated with fatal stroke.

    Nicholas Zaorsky, assistant professor in radiation oncology and public health sciences, said the results could help physicians identify patients at risk for fatal strokes: “Previous research has shown that most cancer patients aren’t going to die of their cancer, they’re going to die of something else. A stroke is one possibility. Our findings suggest that patients may benefit from a screening program to help prevent some of these early deaths from stroke, as well as help identify which patients we could target with those preventative efforts.”

    The researchers used data gathered from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program. SEER includes data about cancer incidence, survival, treatment and age and year of diagnosis, and covers 28 percent of the US population.

    For the current study, the researchers used SEER data on more than 7.2 million patients who had been diagnosed with invasive cancer (cancer that has spread beyond the tissue in which it originally developed) between 1992 and 2015.

    The researchers found that out of 7,529,481 cancer patients, 80,513 died of a stroke. Males and females had equal chances of dying from a stroke, but those diagnosed with cancer at a younger age had a higher chance of a fatal stroke.

    Additionally, they found that among those diagnosed with cancer before they turned 40, most strokes occurred in people treated for brain tumors and lymphomas. In patients diagnosed with cancer above the age of 40, fatal strokes were most commonly associated with cancer of the prostate, breast and colorectum.

    Zaorsky said one explanation for the increased risk could be that many people who are diagnosed with cancer are in a “prothrombotic” state, which means they are more likely to form a blood clot. The researchers added that future studies could help pinpoint mechanisms and further establish the relationship between cancer and strokes.