New Cardio-Oncology Rehabilitation Trial Program Hopes to Bridge Needs

Treating complications from cancer therapy

As cancer treatments have advanced, oncology patients are living longer. Unfortunately, in addition to experiencing cancer treatment side effects, many survivors are developing treatment- related cardiovascular disease and conventional cardiac conditions as they age.

The American College of Cardiology recognizes cardio-oncology as a new specialty within cardiovascular medicine. This past March, Lee Health cardiac rehabilitation service and oncology rehabilitation service combined both therapies through a cardio-oncology rehabilitation trial program. Its goal is to care for cancer patients with a history of cardiovascular disease and cancer patients who develop cardiac complications and need cardiovascular monitoring during rehabilitation.

Cardiologist Anita M. Arnold, D.O. introduced the cardio-oncology rehabilitation program at Lee Health. “Because we know there are complications from cancer therapy, we’re trying to develop a program where we’re not sending people to both rehabilitation programs,” she says. “One combined program is much more convenient and bridges caring for cardiac patients who have cancer and cancer patients so they don’t develop cardiovascular problems.”

Studies have shown 30% of cancer patients will develop cardiovascular complications due to cancer treatment. Chemotherapy agents can be toxic to the heart muscle, and radiation therapy to the chest can affect the heart by causing heart failure, irregular heart beats, and valve and pericardial disease.

Oncology rehabilitation navigator Denise Pfeiffer works closely with a cardiac rehabilitation nurse to determine a patient’s rehabilitation needs. “Our dual screening process is a great strategy to address specific cardiac and cancer impairments that often co-exist,” Denise explains. “A patient may need precise treatment to address cancer deficiencies such as chemo-induced neuropathy—nerve damage— balance impairments, fatigue or specific functional weaknesses, to enable them to participate in a more rigorous cardiac rehabilitation program.”

The program involves people who are strongly committed to proving cardio-oncology rehabilitation will go a long way to improve care for cancer survivors. Dr. Arnold says, “Rehabilitation is much underutilized in general. At Lee Health we’ve been blessed with an administration that supports a cardio-oncology rehabilitation program, and the dedicated cardiac rehabilitation and oncology rehabilitation staff that see the value. It’s not the only program in the world, but it is uncommon.”

Anita Arnold, D.O.
Lee Physician Group
9800 S. HealthPark Drive
Suite 320
Fort Myers, FL 33908

Tags: Cardio-Oncology, cancer, heart