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Screening for Cancer Patients: Reduce the Risk for Heart Disease with Four Key Tests

The improvements in healthcare and medicine today are phenomenal, including that of the latest advances in cancer treatment, with survivors living longer and more productive lives than ever before.

However, research has revealed a surprising association between some cancer treatments and heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in cancer survivors.

“As treatments have improved, more people are living many years after their cancer diagnosis, which is great,” says Dr. Irving Herling, M.D., Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist and Director of Clinical Cardiology at Lankenau Medical Center. “But, unfortunately, we have also seen a trend of increasing cardiovascular complications in those patients.”

As a result, both cardiologists and oncologists are closely working together to prevent the threat of this added health risk in patients – a new specialty known as cardio-oncology.

Main Line Health System, including the Lankenau Heart Institute, plans to use this collaborative team approach to provide top-notch patient care using the most state-of-the-art tools for diagnosis, assessment and treatment.

Reducing the Risk

Certain cancer treatments – especially radiation therapy of cancers in the chest, neck or left breast and certain chemotherapies – destroy cancer cells but may also damage the heart, its muscle, valves, blood supply, electrical system and lining, potentially resulting in compromise and injury to those structures. In addition, high blood pressure and blood clotting may also be side effects of other cancer treatments.

These problems may develop early or long after treatment. Those with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol – in addition to those already diagnosed with heart conditions – appear to be at higher risk and should take extra precaution.

In order to prevent these heart complications, patients in a cardio-oncology program are provided a thorough cardiovascular assessment – both prior to, during and following those treatments placing them at risk– that may include the following tests:

  • Cardiac MRI – magnetic resonance imaging, creating a 3-D picture of the heart without radiation exposure
  • Echocardiography – ultrasound imaging of the moving heart, revealing information on structure and function
  • Cardiac stress testing – evaluating the heart’s response to stress during exercise on a treadmill, with monitoring of heartbeat and blood pressure
  • MUGA (multigated acquisition) scan – to evaluate the pumping function of the heart using a radioactive tracer

This combination of testing assists in the detection of heart damage or subtle changes in heart muscle function.

Even if you are not a cancer patient, cardiologists recommend these tests following the first signs of heart disease, which may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Swelling in the hands, arms, legs, ankles or feet

Dr. Herling is optimistic that the new research and practices in cardio-oncology will prevent and manage potential cases of heart disease.

“Now that we know how certain cancer treatment may adversely affect the heart and blood vessels, we’re able to better anticipate, manage and potentially avoid these adverse effects altogether.”

Lankenau Heart Institute is the region’s most comprehensive healthcare resource, with a team of more than seventy-five cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons who offer advanced services and expertise across a full continuum of cardiovascular care. Forming the core of the Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health System, are four of the area’s most respected acute care hospitals—Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital.

Find a doctor or schedule an appointment today at www.mainlinehealth.org/heart or call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654).