Heart disease is the leading cause of death for cancer survivors. A relatively new scientific field called "cardio-oncology" is working to change that.
Chemotherapy and radiation may save you from cancer, but they can also do a lot of damage to your heart.
"The risk of developing heart failure is greater when a person receives both chemotherapy and radiation therapy," said Bruce Liang, director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn. "On the one hand, we are doing good by treating cancer, but in the same context, we are also creating problems for another important organ, such as the heart."
Liang said that cardio-oncology -- that's heart and cancer doctors work collaboratively with a patient -- started gaining momentum at hospitals around the U.S. in the last three years. He predicted that the field will continue to get more important as there are new drugs developed to treat cancer patients.
A lot of those drugs are effective at killing off tumors, but they can also damage heart tissue, and sometimes, that damage can take years to show up.
Cardio-oncologists perform things like MRIs and blood tests to assess an individual's cardiac risk before and after chemo or radiation. "Now, since we know the leading cause of death among cancer survivors is heart disease, we need to be more attuned to that," said Liang. "We need to raise awareness."
Awareness is one of the big challenges facing this new field of science. Going forward, Liang would like to see more research money given to cardio-oncologists, so they can continue to fine-tune their cardiac assessments for all patients in the cancer ward.