Heart Age Among Cancer Survivors

How Old Is Your Heart?

Most U.S. adults have a heart age older than their actual age, so they’re more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Watch this short video to learn what you can do to lower your heart age.

Cancer survivors may have a higher risk of heart disease than people who never had cancer. On average, men’s predicted heart age is 8.5 years older than their actual age, and women’s predicted heart age is 6.5 years older. Cancer survivors can take steps to lower their risk of getting heart disease.

Many things can raise a person’s risk of getting both cancer and heart disease. Some of these risk factors are—

  • Using tobacco.
  • Not getting enough physical activity.
  • Eating unhealthy food.
  • Having high blood pressure.
  • Being overweight or having obesity.

Cancer survivors may also be more likely to get heart disease for other reasons. Many cancer treatments damage the heart. Some kinds of cancer may raise heart disease risk.

What Is “Heart Age”?

The term heart disease refers to several heart problems. The most common is coronary artery disease, which affects blood flow to the heart. Less blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Heart age is a measure of your risk of getting heart disease. It’s the age of your heart and blood vessels as a result of your risk factors for heart attack and stroke. You can compare it to your actual age.

A person’s heart age is based on his or her age, sex, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI—a measure of body fatness). Heart age is also based on whether the person has diabetes, smokes, or is being treated for high blood pressure.

Examples of Actual Age and Heart Age

In the examples below, a man’s heart age is 30 years higher than his actual age, and a woman’s heart age is 35 years higher than her actual age. This difference is called the excess heart age.

Examples of Actual Age and Heart Age
Actual Age Risk Factors Heart Age
45-year-old man
  • Smoker
  • High blood pressure (systolic blood pressure of 150 mm Hg)
  • Has a healthy weight (BMI of 23)
75 years
50-year-old woman
  • Non-smoker
  • High blood pressure (systolic blood pressure of 148 mm Hg)
  • Diabetic
  • Has obesity (BMI of 32)
85 years

How the Study Was Done

CDC researchers used data from CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to estimate the heart age of adults who are 30 to 74 years old. They compared cancer survivors to people who never had cancer. They also compared people by sex, age group, race and ethnicity, education, and household income.

What the Study Found

  • Cancer survivors had a higher excess heart age than people who never had cancer.
  • Among cancer survivors, older people had a higher excess heart age than younger people.
  • People with more education and higher incomes had lower excess heart age than people with less education and lower incomes.
  • Non-Hispanic Black men and women had the highest excess heart age of any racial or ethnic group.

How Cancer Survivors Can Lower Their Heart Age

It’s important for cancer survivors to take steps to lower their chance of getting heart disease. Some steps are—

Citation

Scott LC, Yang Q, Dowling NF, Richardson LC. Predicted heart age among cancer survivors—United States, 2013–2017. MMWR 2021;70:1–6.

Page last reviewed: January 25, 2021