Cancer and the Heart

Significant advances in cancer treatment have helped us to more effectively control cancer and markedly extend the lives of our patients. However, some of these advanced therapies can also produce serious cardiovascular side effects.

Many cancer patients develop some type of heart complication as a result of cancer therapy. Potential complications include heart failure and cardiomyopathyarrhythmia and hypertension.

The Cardio-oncology Program, a collaboration of the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, is one of only a few programs in the country that brings together expert cardiovascular specialists and oncologists to provide optimal care for cancer patients during and after cancer treatment.

We care for cancer patients who have pre-existing heart conditions and those who develop cardiac side-effects to cancer treatment. Working together as a team, we help minimize cardiotoxicity during cancer treatment and cardiovascular risks during cancer survival. Specialized surgical care is also available for patients who have non-cancerous tumors of the heart or atrial myoxama.

Read the HealthHub Blog article Cancer Treatment’s Impact on the Heart

Cancer and the Heart Topics

Risk Factors for Cancer and Heart Disease

The most common causes of heart-related conditions include:

  • Chemotherapy: anthracyclines and her-2 antagonists
  • Radiation therapy
Treatment for Cancer and Heart Disease

Treatment for Cancer and Heart Disease

Treatment may include:

  • Cardioprotective medications - Physicians may recommend the use of medications that help protect the heart, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, before starting cancer treatment and during cancer treatment.
  • Dosage adjustment - Traditional cancer therapies, such as anthracyclines and radiation, can cause cardiac side effects in some patients. Cardiologists collaborate with medical oncologists to adjust the dose or timing of these therapies to help limit the impact on the heart.
  • Alternative cancer therapies - Patients may soon benefit from the use of alternative cancer therapies – now being studied by our Cardio-oncology team – that are less toxic to the heart.
  • Cardiac care after cancer treatment - For patients who develop cardiac complications after cancer treatment, we offer advanced medical, interventional and surgical care.
  • Long-term care - The Cardio-oncology Program screens and treats long-term cancer survivors for cardiovascular conditions that may or may not be related to their treatment.
  • Research - Our cardio-oncology specialists provide care for patients who are being treated with novel molecular targeted therapies. We are currently evaluating ways to prevent the cardiovascular complications that can result from the use of these drugs.
What You Should Expect

After being referred to the Cardio-oncology Program, each patient will meet with our lead physician for a comprehensive consultation and evaluation. Following the evaluation—which may include imaging to further define a patient’s cardiovascular condition—our team will develop an individualized treatment plan. Treatment varies according to the progress and type of the patient’s heart condition, whether they have any other underlying conditions and whether they are currently being treated for cancer.

Multidisciplinary care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, collaborating with colleagues in other medical specialties. Patients with cancer-related heart issues have access to top specialists throughout the fields of cardiovascular medicine, cardiac surgery, cardiac imaging, vascular surgery and oncology. If your cardiologist discovers a non-cardiovascular condition or concern, you will be referred to an appropriate BWH physician for an expert evaluation.

Initial evaluation appointments take place at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute or at the Watkins Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital – depending on which location is most convenient for the patient.

Resources

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center, where patients and families can access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

Visit the Brigham and Women’s Hospital HealthHub Blog which features information on a variety of topics, including heart disease.

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