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MedWatch: Cardio Oncology

For people with cancer, fighting the disease is priority number one.

But sometimes the treatments come at a cost to a patient’s heart.

Meet a doctor at Munson Medical Center who is only one of three in the state who specializes in treating these patients in this week’s MedWatch report.

“You have to think you never know what the future is going to hold. You have to live like you’re going to live forever.”

Wise words from a woman who has faced death a lot recently.

It started when doctors diagnosed Angela West with breast cancer in 2014.

“I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It was considered triple positive, which is a very aggressive tumor with a high rate of recurrence in my left breast,” explains Angela.

Doctors soon realized it had spread to her lymph nodes. She needed surgery and aggressive treatment.

That treatment put her into heart failure.

“I was feeling short of breath, wouldn’t sleep very much at night, wake up gasping. I had been getting echo cardiograms regularly and nothing showed as much of a change right away,” says Angela.

“Angela was a little unique in that she got quick sick. Despite getting the proper monitoring, her heart muscle function decreased rapidly so she was hospitalized with heart failure, gained a lot of fluid weight and was quite short of breath,” explains Dr. Thomas Andrews.

Dr. Andrews is Angela’s cardiologist. He has a special interest in cardio oncology, or working with the heart issues of cancer patients.

It’s a relatively new field.

“In the last 15 years, there’s been a lot of drugs out that have been effective in treatment of various different cancers. Unfortunately, a large subset of those drugs also have off-target effects which also target the heart, meaning that they kill cancer cells but they can also cause cardiac dysfunction,” says Dr. Andrews.

That typically only happens in less than 10 percent of patients.

Angela was one of them.

“There are certain issues that come up with cancer treatment that are relatively unique, and most cardiologist don’t have tremendous experience,” says Dr. Andrews.

The fine line is finding the appropriate strength of treatment, while preserving a patient’s heart. It’s not easy and takes a lot of monitoring, but these doctors are now all working together.

“I think there’s a confidence level that a patient has if they know that a cardiologist has some knowledge of their cancer, which is usually the most important thing to them at that point, and that the cardiologist is going to be communicating directly with the oncologist and working together instead of having fragmented care,” explains Dr. Andrews.

After 2-3 months of therapy and working with Dr. Andrews, Angela’s heart is back in the healthy range again.

Her cancer treatments are back on track and she’s looking forward to the future.

“It’s been a struggle, but I feel like I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and getting there, so I’m looking forward to the end of it for good, hopefully,” says Angela.