Cardio Oncology: Protecting the Heart During Cancer Care


Cancer and cancer treatments are hard on the body. In fact, some cancer treatments have been associated with heart and vascular complications. We asked Dr. Christopher Wilson of Renown’s Cardio Oncology Program how cardiologists and cancer specialists are working together to provide coordinated heart and cancer care for patients. 

Advancements in cancer care are improving outcomes for patients, but the treatments can be hard on the body — especially the heart. We asked Christopher Wilson, M.D., a cardiologist with the Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health, to detail Renown’s new Cardio Oncology Program, which brings together cardiologists and cancer specialists to provide coordinated heart and cancer care for patients. 

What is cardio oncology?

Cardio oncology focuses on recognizing symptoms early and keeping the heart healthy and strong so patients can complete their chemotherapy and radiation treatments and reach remission.

Throughout a patient’s cancer treatment, both heart and cancer care teams work together to ensure the best possible care. This allows the patient to continue chemotherapy or radiation while making sure their heart stays strong. And even after the patient is in remission, we monitor them closely to ensure continual strength of the heart muscle.

What should patients look for?

For patients undergoing cancer treatment, it’s especially important to watch for heart issues such as palpitations, a racing heart, progressive shortness of breath, or swelling in the abdomen and legs that is getting worse. These are all signs your heart is weakening and not performing fully.

Of course, these are important symptoms to watch for in yourself and your loved ones — regardless of a heart problem or cancer diagnosis.

Are certain types of cancer more susceptible to heart issues?

The location of the cancer can make a patient more susceptible to heart issues.

Patients being treated for breast cancer, lung cancer or lymphoma can be at higher risk for heart and vascular complications simply because their treatment is focused on organs close to the heart.

In the case of chemotherapy treatment, medications are critical to patient care and reaching remission, but can cause weakening of the heart muscle. That is why we work together to provide additional medicine to support and strengthen the heart while continuing these crucial cancer treatments.

 Why is coordinated heart and cancer care important for patients?

Coordinating care with both heart and cancer teams ensures the greatest care for patients — whether it is a patient going through cancer treatment who begins experiencing heart problems, or a heart patient who is diagnosed with cancer.

Without a cardio oncology program, patients sometimes have to stop their cancer treatments because their heart is too weak. In working together, we are able to closely monitor patients and keep them moving through cancer treatment and get them to remission faster.

One patient is a prime example of that. During remission, doctors noticed her heart function was reduced and thought they may need to cancel her chemotherapy. Through the cardio oncology program, we watched her numbers and focused on making heart healthy lifestyle changes so she could continue chemotherapy. Now her heart function is back to normal and she is hiking again.

For more information on heart and vascular issues and treatments, visit the Institute for Heart & Vascular Health. Learn more about cancer care at the Renown Institute for Cancer.

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