Treating breast cancer patients who also develop heart disease

Breast cancer patient receives chemotherapy treatment. (WCHS/WVAH)

Cardio oncology is something new in the medical field. It answers the million dollar question facing doctors ... how do you treat a breast cancer patient who also has or who is danger of getting heart disease?

“We have among the highest breast cancer and we have among the highest heart disease,” said Dr. Ellen Thompson, a cardiologist with Marshall Health.

Treating patients with both breast cancer and heart disease can be tricky for doctors. “We have made great advances in the treatment of breast cancer, so many of those treatments are toxic to your heart,” said Dr. Thompson.

She says those dangers are heart failure and accelerated hardening of the arteries, traced back to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. “9 to 10 % of all breast cancer patients who are exposed to this type of treatment may develop heart related issues after ten years,” said Dr. Mary Tirona, an oncologist with Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“At first it was of course devastating. It was more bad news on top of the bad news of having the breast cancer,” said Arbutus Taylor of Wayne County, a breast cancer survivor.

Through her chemotherapy treatments she developed issues with her heart. Dr. Tirona and Dr. Thompson found treatment options for her through a newly-formed Cardio Oncology Program. “Very encouraging to know there is treatment available for the cancer and for heart disease,” said Taylor.

The goal of the program is to find risk factors in each breast cancer patient that could make them susceptible for heart disease, and then develop a treatment plan that could include either chemotherapy or medicines

“If the patient has an underlying heart disease, we have to make sure the heart treatment optimized first before we consider the patient for any treatment for breast cancer,” said Dr. Tirona.

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