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What is cardio-oncology?

Patients with cancer may have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease since cancer therapies may affect the heart and vascular systems. It is important to prevent, monitor, and treat cardiovascular disease in cancer survivors and patients to ensure long-term health.

Our team of leading cardiologists and oncologists collaborate to provide comprehensive cardiovascular care to patients with cancer who have, or are at risk for, heart disease.

We seek to evaluate patients so that cancer therapy can be aggressive -- and to ensure that cardiac disease is not the result of that aggressive therapy.

Our program goals

  • Ensure better outcomes for patients with heart disease and cancer
  • Recognize early cardio toxicity from therapy
  • Prevent, reduce, and if possible, reverse cardiac damage
  • Monitor patients with potential cardiac issues undergoing chemo or radiation therapy
  • Understand cardiac issues during cancer therapy
  • Remove cardiac disease as a barrier to effective cancer therapy
  • Participate in establishing best survival practices for cardiac surveillance after therapy

Who is it for?

The focus is on three groups:

  • Those with existing heart disease who develop cancer to ensure their heart can withstand the stress of treatment. All these patients need to see their cardiologist to be referred.
  • Those who are considered cancer survivors and have either undergone radiation therapy with portals that have included the heart, or received cardio toxic regimens.
  • Those currently undergoing chemotherapy with cardio toxic agents to monitor for subtle changes in cardiac function that may signal an early decrease in cardiac function. 

Protecting Your Heart

Our highly trained specialists will monitor monitor your blood pressure and heart health.

Full of smiles and laughter, Peggy Beal’s positive attitude has brought her through some challenging times. “Keep that good attitude even if you have a hard time with attitude, try and make it. Sometimes it’s all you got; it is,” she said. In 1982 Peggy was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent 60 treatments of radiation. “Years later I ended up with melanoma on my back; then I ended up with two heart stents in 2005 and 2007. I ended up, two years ago, with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy,” said Peggy. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Peggy underwent chemotherapy, but her doctor advised her not to undergo radiation. “She presents a unique problem, and she’s exactly the kind of patient for which cardio-oncology wound up being a subspecialty,” said Dr. Anita Arnold, a cardio-oncologist with Lee Health. Dr. Arnold helps patients who develop heart conditions after a cancer diagnosis. “You can almost see how one thing happens and the next thing happens,” she said. Today, Peggy awaits, yet another heart surgery, this time to repair a leaky valve. A problem Dr. Arnold says is likely linked to radiation years ago. “Some of the things she had was at a very young age that was not something we would expect, and it was all in the areas that she was radiated. Today Peggy lives with numerous health conditions that doctors say are linked to her radiation. Things like thyroid abnormalities, coronary artery disease, and valvular abnormalities. “It’s all readily treatable, but it needs to be looked for,” said Dr. Arnold. Patients who have a history of cancer and heart disease may benefit from having a cardio-oncologist to monitor their blood pressure and heart health.

What treatments do we provide?

Risk Assessment

Before undergoing medical or surgical treatments for cancer, it is important to understand your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. We work closely with your oncologist and provide a comprehensive evaluation before cancer therapy to minimize any potential cardiovascular complications from cancer treatment. We combine a complete, personalized assessment with appropriate diagnostic testing and optimal cardiovascular therapies.

Care for Cancer Patients with Existing Cardiovascular Disease

Management of conditions such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart valve disease and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) in cancer patients requires an approach customized to their overall care. Our goal is to treat existing cardiac conditions so that you are healthy enough to respond well to your cancer treatment.

Monitoring for Cardiac Complications                  from Cancer Therapy

If you are actively receiving chemotherapy or have previously completed chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, you may experience symptoms related to hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, valvular heart disease, pericardial disease and arrhythmias. With early recognition and treatment, many complications of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy can be managed successfully.

Assessment of Long-Term Cardiac Risk                    in Cancer Survivors

There is increasing evidence that shows that survivors of cancer face higher risks of cardiovascular disease. We provide a comprehensive risk assessment that includes a detailed history, physical examination, lab work and diagnostic testing. Strategies to reduce cardiac risk include dietary and lifestyle modifications and, when appropriate, medical therapy.

Assessment of New Chemotherapies

Many of the new chemotherapeutic agents in clinical and pre-clinical studies have the potential to damage the heart. We administer advanced diagnostic tests to identify cardiotoxicities for patients undergoing treatment with new chemotherapies. These may include diagnostic imaging, noninvasive stress testing, blood tests, ambulatory blood pressure monitoring and continuous monitoring of a patient’s heart from a remote location can help identify cardiotoxicities and lead to the development of preventative strategies.

Evaluation of Cardiac Tumors

At Lee Health, we have state-of-the-art imaging technology to evaluate heart tumors, which are abnormal growths in the heart or heart valves. This imaging technology includes:

  • Echocardiography (with 3-D imaging), which provides an ultrasound of the heart
  • Cardiac computed tomography (CT), which uses an X-ray machine that moves around the body to take images of each part of the heart
  • Cardiac MRI, a type of MRI that creates images of the heart and major blood vessels
  • Positron emission tomography (PET), which provides a 3-D image of functional processes in the body

Why is this program needed?

Cancer is a devastating disease and represents the second most common health problem in this country. The No. 1 killer of Americans is heart disease -- and these two diseases are intimately related.

Studies have shown that 30 percent of all cancer patients will develop some cardiovascular complications from their treatment.

Many of the chemo agents can cause some form of cardiac damage, which can be directly toxic to the heart muscle, or cause hypertension, glucose intolerance, or excessive fluid retention that can weaken the heart.

Radiation of the chest can affect the heart and cause heart failure, arrhythmia, valve disease and even heart attacks.

These effects can manifest early during treatment, or years later when everyone has assumed that the patient is clear of cancer problems. We have, at that time, substituted one disease for another, which is just as devastating.

Why Lee Health?

Our cardiovascular specialists have worked closely with oncologists and radiation oncologists both locally and nationally to study these issues. In fact, Richard Chazal, M.D., a Lee Physician Group cardiologist and president-elect of The American College of Cardiology, has placed Lee Health at the forefront of this sub-specialty.

Our commitment to excellence ensures that you will receive the best care at all points during your visit.

Who to contact

For questions related to cardio-oncology care or services, email us at hearts@leehealth.org or call us at 239-343-6350.