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As Cancer Survivors Face Heart Failure, The UA Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Opens a Unique Program


Heart disease might not be top of mind for cancer patients, but it should be. Many studies show that cancer survivors are more likely to die from heart disease than recurrence of cancer. Some of the same treatments that help people survive cancer may also damage the heart, increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular problems such as heart failure.

Anantharam Kalya, MD, is the cardiologist leading the newly launched cardio-oncology program at The University of Arizona Cancer Center at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in downtown Phoenix. Cardio-oncology is an emerging field in both oncology and cardiology. It has evolved from the high rates of survivorship among patients whose cancer treatments may damage their heart. Symptoms associated with this damage can occur five to ten years after completion of cancer therapy.

“Cardiotoxicity is a risky health effect on the circulatory system. It can cause high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and can affect heart muscle function which can lead to heart failure,” says Dr. Kalya who holds clinic at The UA Cancer Center each Wednesday. “Cardiotoxicity is treated one of two ways—by optimally treating cardiovascular risk factors and by modifying cancer treatments to reduce cardiac risks. Certain heart medications can be initiated early in patients who are at risk or show early signs of cardiotoxicity.”

Dr. Kalya explains that chemotherapy and radiation treatment have been found to cause short- and long-term cardiovascular complications which can become a leading threat to a cancer patient’s survival. According to one University of Texas study, the incidence of heart disease 10 years after cancer treatment is as high as 22 percent. Another study by researchers at Vanderbilt University revealed that heart disease is the most common non-cancer cause of death among prostate cancer survivors.

“Any cancer patient who exhibits signs of an impaired or damaged heart can be treated,” says Dr. Kalya, who is also medical director of the Center for Heart Failure at St. Joseph’s. “The patients at most risk for complex cardiovascular problems are those with history of heart attack or heart failure and preexisting conditions like uncontrolled blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and tobacco use.”

Through this program, St. Joseph’s hopes to prevent, manage and possibly reverse these side effects both during and after cancer treatment by utilizing specialized echocardiograms and blood tests. Close monitoring, Dr. Kalya further explains, is essential for early detection and prompt treatment.

The unique relationship between Dr. Kalya and the cancer physicians at The UA Cancer Center allows for more precise treatment plans. For example, if a patient’s heart begins to show adverse effects, the doctors can work together to adjust the patient’s cancer care plan before more damage occurs. In addition, this collaboration allows patients to receive all of the services they need under one roof.

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