Assembling The Best Minds To Treat Cancer Patients And Protect Your Heart
A team of doctors will soon be working together to fight the two main causes of death in the United States
Cardio-oncology is a new field in cardiology. Thanks to improvements in detection and treatment, cancer survivorship has increased significantly over the past several decades. Today, more than 14.5 million cancer survivors are living in the United States. But the aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments can cause damage to the hearts of the patient’s life they are saving, frequently putting the survivor at a greater risk for heart disease. Cardio-oncology describes the efforts to prevent or treat patients with cancer who face heart problems caused by cancer treatments.
Dr. Heather Stahura is spearheading the developing of Capital Cardiology Associates Cardio-oncology medical team, consisting of physicians, clinicians, and medical staff in the Capital Region. “The big institutions, like Yale, have started these cardiology oncology programs. CCA would like to bring this here for our people. We want to make a team effort, working with local oncologists to address the awareness to create protocols to aid in risk assessments before treatment or cardiac functions as they are undergoing therapy,” said Dr. Stahura.
It’s hard to believe that the idea of including heart health in cancer treatment is a relatively new practice. “Cardio-Oncology is a new field that is coming into practice, I’d say really, over the past five years. We see a real need for it. What we are looking to address is people for traditional risk factors for heart disease or not at all, before you undergo chemotherapy,” stated Dr. Stahura. Emerging data indicates that newly developed drugs for cancer treatment have unanticipated side effects. The numbers also show that less than 30% of hospitals and medical centers offer specialized cardio-oncology services. Anthracyclines are a class of drugs used in cancer chemotherapy. While it is very effective in the treatment of breast cancer, “anthracyclines, when given in high-doses during treatment or to patients as part of the regular treatment protocol, can lead to an increased risk of congestive heart failure,” shared Dr. Stahura. Also, a variety of new drugs that are very effective in treating cancer can have other effects on the cardiovascular system.
“Just as the world of cardiology is ever changing, oncology is rapidly changing with new treatment options. I think that working in team formats to address these issues – we know these are life-saving treatments, they are what’s best for the patient. We don’t want to stop the treatments we want to keep them safe.”
The goal of the Cardiac-Oncology team is to treat the complete patient safely. Simply put, kill the cancer cells without damaging other areas. “Oncologists and radiation oncologists have done a fantastic job at evaluating their treatments and procedures using machines to minimize risk to their patients. Radiation to the chest can cause advanced coronary disease, especially valvular dysfunction. These doctors have realized that we have to minimize the field of exposure to miss the heart and important internal organs while trying to target that cancer as best they can. Our job on the cardiologist side is never to interfere or stop these life-saving treatments that the oncologists are administering but rather, to work as a team format, addressing issues before they arise or catch them before your heart pump starts to fail or hypertension develops. We want to assist in your care.”
Cancer survivors are educated on lifestyle changes they will need to make following their successful treatments. Eating healthy, staying active, getting a flu shot, frequently washing their hands, limiting their exposure to the sun and tanning beds, and of course, staying away from alcohol and tobacco smoke. Sometimes monitoring your heart health can be lost in the massive amount of information a survivor receives. “That often can be difficult for patients to understand,” says Michelle Giwerc, a Physician Assistant at Capital Cardiology Associates. “Cancer patients are at a greater risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), for example. That can lead to coronary heart disease. One of the major goals moving forward is to screen people regularly, whether that is with yearly physicals with your primary doctor to look for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Awareness will help in early detection to treat these symptoms.”
In all matters of the heart, Capital Cardiology Associates is consistently seeking opportunities to improve our patients quality of care. “In big cities, major institutions are responding very well. I think we can do even better in our area. We have a great medical community here. I would love to see a survivorship clinic in the future. We would get the people who are done with their treatment five, ten years down the road,” said Dr. Stahura. For those of us who live in the Northeast, a nationwide survey shows that medical centers in our area are aggressively working to establishing a team of medical professionals capable of recognizing the growing population heart disease patients in addition to collaborative cancer treatment protocols. Dr. Stahura is seeking to create such a medical community here in the Capital Region. “I know oncologists definitely talk about the risk factors of medications. But as cardiologists, we want you to keep following up with us five, ten, fifteen years after your successful treatment so that you can become a cardiac survivor as well.”
Written by: Michael Arce, Capital Cardiology Associates
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