Cardio-Oncology: Comprehensive Heart Care for Cancer Patients

Every October, Americans recognize Breast Cancer Awareness month, a worthy opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of early detection and treatment of a disease that kills more than 43,000 Americans every year.

Advances in targeted and hormonal therapies are giving more and more breast cancer patients hope for recovery. In some cases, however, the treatments used to address breast cancer can have cardiac implications, known as cardiotoxity.

Cardio-oncology is a growing sub-specialty of cardiology that focuses on the impacts some cancer therapies can have on the heart, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Cardiomyopathy, problems with the heart muscle
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease from radiation therapy that can thicken or scar tissue
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Pericarditis, a thickening of the heart’s lining

Virginia Heart’s Cardio-Oncology team has extensive experience in helping cancer patients and survivors manage any cardiac side effects or conditions that arise from their breast cancer treatments. Our goal is to work closely with our patients’ oncologists so that we can prevent, detect and mitigate the effects of cardiotoxicity.

To do this we may use a combination of testing modalities, such as EKGs and cardiac biomarker blood testing, as well as pre- and post-chemotherapy cardiovascular assessments. We can assess each patient’s risk for developing cardiotoxicity, as well as recommend a monitoring and treatment plan as they progress through their recovery. And we stay in regular communications with their oncologists to discuss any potential adjustments or substitutes to their cancer treatment plans that could minimize cardiac implications.

As we know, all cancers are not the same. Many patients can be treated successfully without fear of damage to their hearts and cardiovascular systems. However, in some patients receiving certain types of chemotherapy, the risk of cardiotoxicity on future cardiac health cannot and should not be ignored.

The goal of cardio-oncology is to allow our patients to receive their full course of chemotherapy while hopefully preventing future cardio-toxic side effects. But if there have been implications for the heart and vascular system, we want to ensure we follow those patients closely and prescribe a treatment plan that will enable them to live their lives to the fullest.