High Blood Pressure

Hypertension and cancer treatment

Some medications used to treat cancer can cause a rapid onset of elevated blood pressure, also called hypertension. The class of cancer treatment medications that are most associated with a rise in blood pressure are anti-VEGF medications. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein that stimulates the formation of small blood vessels. Medications that block VEGF help block the blood flow supply to tumors, helping shrink or eradicate the cancer. However, the medications frequently affect other blood vessels in the body which can lead to high blood pressure. Regardless of which cancer treatment you are receiving, your cardio-oncology team will help control your blood pressure so that you can receive the anti-cancer treatment that you need.

Monitoring your blood pressure

Even before starting treatment, it is important to know your blood pressure and make sure it is at the current recommended goal, below 130/80. This goal can be reached by diet and exercise and/or the use of medications. Once you start an anti-cancer medication, keep a log of your blood pressures. If you start to notice a pattern of the blood pressures increasing, especially to anything higher than 140/90, it may be necessary to visit a cardio-oncologist to initiate some new blood pressure medications.

How to measure your blood pressure

A home blood pressure machine may be obtained at a local drug store or department store for around $20 – $40. It is recommended that you sit in a resting mode for five minutes before taking the reading. Sit with both feet on the floor and do not cross your legs. Do not talk while the machine is inflating and taking the reading. The measurement should be taken at approximately the same day time each day, preferably in the morning before breakfast.

Controlling high blood pressure during and after cancer treatment

The good news is that your blood pressure can normally be controlled with common antihypertensive (anti-high blood pressure) medications which people have been taking routinely for years. These medications will likely allow you to continue your anti-cancer therapy with limited or no interruption.

Once you complete your cancer treatment, you should continue to follow up with your cardio-oncologist to determine if you need to continue your blood pressure medication or if you may be able to slowly reduce the dose.

Things you can do on your own

In addition to any necessary medicines that can help keep your blood pressure from becoming dangerously elevated, regular aerobic exercise as well as good diet choices can also help keep your blood pressure optimized. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet helps lower blood pressure by up to 20 points, compared to conventional diets. The diet consists of a focus on vegetables, in addition to fruits, reducing red meat with preference for white meat, occasional fish and low fat dairy. Watching your total salt intake can also help significantly.