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Women with Irregular Heartbeat May Have Increased Risk of Cancer, Study Says

May 26, 2016 08:21 AM EDT

A new study suggests that there is a possible link between irregular heartbeat and cancer, especially in women.

"We found a significant relationship between atrial fibrillation and cancer," said lead researcher Dr. David Conen of the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

But this should not cause alarm. According to the study, which was published in the JAMA Cardiology journal, there is only an association existing between atrial fibrillation and cancer, particularly colon cancer, but this does not prove that irregular heart rhythm directly causes cancer.

Researchers analyzed the data from a previous study by Harvard University that followed nearly 35,000 women for about 20 years. Among the subjects, researchers found that those who developed atrial fibrillation had a 60 percent increased risk of being diagnosed of cancer.

The study may have found a connection between atrial fibrillation and cancer, but it should also be considered that the subjects might have shared other common risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, Conan explained in an article published in WebMD.

Men could also have the same risk, according to Conan.

The researchers said that atrial fibrillation was a significant risk factor for cancer, even after consideration of other risk factors.

The risk of getting cancer was higher within the three months after developing atrial fibrillation. But the risk persisted beyond three months, and researchers also noted an increased risk of dying of cancer.

Researchers explored lung, breast and colon cancer, but the strongest association with atrial fibrillation was detected in colon cancer.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, and is also said to increase the risk of stroke and other heart problems, researchers said.

According to Dr. Emilia Benjamin, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine, atrial fibrillation is a common condition affecting 33 million people worldwide, and that people with this condition should not worry about getting cancer, she said.

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