Cardio-Oncology Specialists Help Protect Patients’ Hearts During Cancer Treatment
Certain cancer treatments, particularly some forms of systemic therapies and radiation therapy, are associated with the risk of cardiotoxicity. Additionally, the cardiotoxic effects of certain novel chemotherapeutic and biologic agents may not be known yet. The role of a cardio-oncologist is to care for people who have heart disease, or who are at risk of developing heart disease, throughout their cancer treatment.
"Cardio-oncology is essentially a balancing act between the need to treat the cancer and the need to protect the heart," said Dipan Desai, DO, cardio-oncologist with University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health. "In addition, there are new cancer chemotherapeutics every day, and we're not always aware of all of the side effects and potential cardiotoxicity until they are on the market for months."
Cardio-oncologists work at the intersection of cardiology and oncology. Their goal as part of the multidisciplinary care team is to ensure the patient's treatment plan takes the individual's cardiovascular health into account appropriately and to watch for cardiac damage during the treatment process.
"As part of the patient's team of physicians, we work closely with the oncologists to identify possible cardiovascular risk associated with the patient's treatment plan and try to mitigate those risks the best we can," said Brian Barr, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and cardio-oncologist at University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC). "We also work closely with our colleagues in radiology and cardiovascular imaging to use the most recent imaging tools at our disposal, particularly cardiac MRI, cardiac CT, and strain imaging with echocardiography. By using a multidisciplinary approach, our team is able to give our patients' the best chance at survival."
The cardio-oncology programs within the cancer network of the University of Maryland Medical System has several distinct advantages:
- Diagnostic tools and technologies are available across the University of Maryland Medical System to help identify patients who are at higher risk of cardiotoxicity earlier, before they develop symptoms.
- The cardio-oncology team is knowledgeable about novel chemotherapeutic agents and their potential side effects, enabling them to work closely with the patient's oncologist to facilitate care.
- Scheduling and appointments are seamless for the patient, and echocardiography capabilities for surveillance are located within the cancer center locations.
- The patient's regular cardiologist and oncologist are kept in the loop at all times, with regular communication.
"Cardio-oncology bridges two fields to allow patients to complete the best available chemotherapeutic regimen with minimal interruption," said Manu Mysore, MD, Assistant Professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Within cardio-oncology, there is a focus on prevention, surveillance, and treatment, as early detection and treatment of cardiovascular complications has decreased longer term morbidity and mortality in patients surviving cancer. Advances in imaging, genomics, and targeted biomarkers will further allow for the advancement of the field of cardio-oncology and help our cancer patients."
The UM Cancer Network is participating clinical trials that are aimed at developing treatment approaches that reduce cardiac complications from cancer treatment. The RadComp Study, for example, is nationwide clinical study comparing two FDA-approved radiation therapies for the treatment of breast cancer, photon therapy vs. proton therapy to see if using proton therapy helps reduce the risk of cardiac complications following radiation therapy. Patients can be screened for participation in this study, as well other clinical trials, at UM Cancer Network site locations.
The UM Cancer Network offers cardio-oncology at University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and Upper Chesapeake Health. Refer a patient to a cardio-oncologist program today.