A relatively new but important subspecialty of cardiology revolves around conditions affecting the heart because of cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy – Cardio-oncology. While incredibly effective and often very necessary, these treatment modalities can cause significant disability and morbidity in those treated for cancer. As we learn more about the effects of seemingly unrelated treatments on the heart, we have, as cardiologists, understood that it is prudent to monitor and test cancer patients throughout treatment periodically.
The Ways We Check for Potential Cardiotoxicity
As the name suggests, cardiotoxicity involves anything that creates a toxic environment for the heart. To find these markers, we use several tools, including 3-D echo, to estimate the level of deformity around the heart, if any. Other markers such as natriuretic peptides can be a precursor to cardiotoxicity, and we monitor these levels closely.
Of course, each of our hearts is as unique as we are and all of these measurements are most helpful if we take a snapshot of the heart before cancer treatment. If you have been referred to chemotherapy or radiation, we encourage you to visit a qualified cardiologist who can take baseline readings, track your progress and make informed decisions about your heart health during your cancer care.
It’s About Experience
Not to be overlooked is a cardiologist’s experience necessary to make judgment calls about cardiotoxicity and where the treatment plan should be modified. This requires a collaborative relationship with the cardiologist and the oncologist, but an experienced cardiologist in this area will have seen virtually every outcome or eventuality. Further, if heart symptoms should begin to reverse or resolve themselves after the completion of chemo or radiation therapy, the cardiologist must decide whether to discontinue the medication.
Ultimately, monitoring and treating cardiotoxicity resulting from cancer treatment is as much art as science. Every person, and their heart, reacts differently to their cancer treatment, and a specialist cardiologist and a collaborative oncology team are required to minimize any potential damage to the heart or identify and treat any damage as quickly and effectively as possible.
If you are experiencing any cardiovascular issues that may result from cancer treatment or if you will be starting cancer treatment soon, we encourage you to contact our office and discuss our monitoring protocols to minimize the risk of cardiotoxicity.