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Date posted: October 29, 2012

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) — New research suggests that surgical procedures, not stress, may lead to the spike in heart-related deaths known to occur in the weeks after a cancer diagnosis.

This new study theorizes that surgery involved in diagnosing and/or treating the cancer causes or contributes to the increased risk of heart-related deaths shortly after cancer is identified.

The researchers were skeptical about the widely held psychological-stress theory and launched an investigation to see whether surgery might lie behind the rise in death risk. Previous research had shown that the risk of cardiac problems such as heart attacks rises after surgery, even low-risk operations, said report lead author Dr. Mark Voskoboynik, a medical oncology fellow at Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Australia.

“Our analysis of a large database showed that death from cardiac causes was more common in patients that had surgery for their primary tumor compared to patients that did not undergo surgery,” he said. The rate of death was doubled in the surgical patients, their research showed.

The database included nearly 288,000 patients in the United States who were diagnosed with cancer from 1998 to 2008 and died within four weeks of the diagnosis.

Of these deceased cancer patients, the researchers estimate that 12 percent who had surgery died of cardiac problems, compared to 6 percent of those who didn’t undergo an operation.

Surgery “probably has an effect on the rates of early cardiovascular deaths among these patients, possibly over and above any influence of psychological stress,” the authors wrote.

Their findings appear in a letter to the editor published in the Oct. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

OURCES: Mark Voskoboynik, M.B., medical oncology fellow, Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Unnur Valdimarsdottir, Ph.D., associate professor, University of Iceland, Reykjavik; Oct. 18, 2012, New England Journal of Medicine [Link]

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