What is Cardio Oncology?
Cardio Oncology is a relatively new area of cardiology. Cancer treatments are becoming more effective and so patients with cancer are living longer. In some cases though their cancer treatments can affect their heart. Cardio Oncology specialises in helping detect and treat these problems so patients can have their best possible survivorship journey.
Which cancer sufferers does this tend to apply to?
One of the most common cancers in the world is breast cancer and in Australia we often see it affecting young women. The treatments for breast cancer are very effective but the chemotherapy and radiotherapy can affect the heart and so this is the largest group of patients we are seeing at the moment. I suspect that in the future, as awareness increases, we will also see increasing numbers of child cancer survivors.
Do all cancer treatments affect the heart?
No. Not all cancer treatments affect the heart. There are many cancer treatments currently available and the ones used in a person depend on many factors. Some can affect the heart and the medical and radiation oncologists and haematologists know very well the effects of the drugs they are using and will refer their patients for appropriate screening and treatment if necessary.
Why have I never heard of this before?
In the past cancer survivorship was not as good as now and so how the treatments affected the heart didn’t matter as much. Now that the oncologists and haematologists have made such advances and people are living much longer with cancer, the heart effects are so much more important and so this area is becoming much more important and known.
What do the cardiologists treating these people usually do to them?
The good news is that often the testing for the condition is straight forward and safe with ultrasound scans and most of the treatments are based around commonly used medications that are usually well tolerated. So with relatively simple, safe investigations and treatments we can make a major positive impact.
If I am a patient having cancer treatment now or have had it in the past what should I do?
The first thing that you should do is not panic. If you oncologist or haematologist has not spoken to you about this, then it is not likely they are concerned that this is a problem for you. However, you should always feel free to ask your doctors questions and so you could always ask – “Do I need to have my heart checked because of the treatments that I am being given?”. Your doctors will be able to tell you.