Surgery for cancer

Having surgery for cancer often requires a general anaesthetic (when you are put to sleep before your operation), which can put stress on your heart. This is not usually a problem for a normal healthy heart. But if you have an existing heart problem, or if you have other risk factors (such as being overweight or having diabetes, or if you’re a smoker), there’s a risk that surgery and the anaesthetic together could result in damage to the heart.

The risk may be small if you have minor surgery and only need to be asleep (anaesthetised) for a short time. If you have major surgery and need to be asleep for several hours, the risk can be greater. Some people can’t have major surgery if it’s likely to result in serious damage to the heart, such as a heart attack. Your doctor will explain the possible risks of surgery with you.

Before any major cancer surgery, you will have tests to check your heart function and make sure you are fit enough for the operation. If you’re unable to have surgery because your heart function isn’t good enough, your doctors will talk to you about other cancer treatments.

Working together to create information for you

We worked with British Heart Foundation to write our content on heart health.

Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.

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Back to Cancer treatment and your heart

Chemotherapy

A few chemotherapy drugs affect the heart. Your hospital team will talk to you about any risks of the drugs you’re having.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy only affects the heart if it’s in the area treated. Improvements in radiotherapy treatment have reduced the risk of problems.

Hormonal therapies

Treatment with hormonal therapies can sometimes increase the risk of heart problems.

Cancer research trials

If you take part in a clinical trial, you will have regular checks for any side effects.

Managing heart problems

If you have heart problems during cancer treatment, your doctors will help you decide on the best way to manage them.