Cancer Care and Heart Disease

After a cancer diagnosis, patients and their doctors work together to develop a plan to find the best treatments to eradicate their disease. But there is often another life-threatening health issue developing throughout the course of treatment.

Cancer therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy each cause unique and serious damage to the heart. As cancer treatments advance and more patients survive the disease, the field of cardio-oncology is emerging as an important specialty to ensure patients remain healthy enough to endure treatment and also to monitor their increased risk for years to come.

All cancer treatments increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, not just in the short term, but also in the long term,” said Chris Fine, MD, a cardio-oncologist at National Jewish Health, in Denver. “We monitor the heart closely, stratify patients’ risks for developing adverse effects and intervene early, before patients experience symptoms. The goal is to not only protect their heart health in the future, but also to avoid interruptions in cancer treatment over concerns that their heart isn’t strong enough.”

Cardio-oncologists work closely with other cancer care providers to make informed decisions throughout a patient’s treatment, seeing patients for routine imaging and testing through echocardiograms and EKGs.  Fine also encourages patients to use apps and websites to enter daily data for things like blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels to identify any subtle changes to their heart health. Follow-up care is critical, as patients in remission may not realize that they are at increased risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

“I’m with them throughout the entire journey. It is my job to take care of their heart and foresee any cardiovascular issues, so that they can focus their mental and physical energy where it’s needed the most, and that’s with battling their cancer,” Fine said.

As the field of cardio-oncology grows, experts say it is important for patients to be aware of the risks and to advocate for themselves by seeking the care of a cardio-oncologist, who has the expertise to consider how their heart health works in tandem with their cancer care.

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