Cancer increases the risk of stroke independently of other stroke risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, according to a study published in the Annals of Neurology.

The findings come from an analysis of Medicare claims submitted between 2001 and 2009 by patients aged 66 and older who had been diagnosed with breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.

Compared to cancer-free seniors, those with cancer had a much higher risk of stroke. And the risk was highest in the first three months after cancer diagnosis, when the intensity of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments is typically highest, the researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City said in a college news release.

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The risk of stroke was highest among patients with lung, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers, which are often diagnosed at advanced stages.

Stroke risk was lowest among those with breast and prostate cancers, which are often diagnosed when patients have localized tumors, the researchers said.

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“These findings are relevant to patients and their care because stroke often leads to death and disability, especially if it is not quickly diagnosed and treated with clot-busting medicines,” study first author Babak Navi, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell and a neurologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in the news release.

“Patients and their doctors should be vigilant for symptoms and signs of stroke and should immediately call 911 if they occur. In addition, stroke is particularly relevant to cancer patients because strokes often preclude or delay cancer treatments, resulting in reduced survival.”


  1. Navi, Babak B., MD, et al. “Association between incident cancer and subsequent stroke.” Annals of Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/ana.24325. January 7, 2015.