When it comes to cancer, even the treatment can be hard on the heart.
It’s no secret that cancer treatment can be hard on the body. Many have heard of fatigue, hair loss or nausea accompanying chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. Probably lesser known, but perhaps more serious, is something called cardiotoxicity.
What Is Cardiotoxicity?
Cardiotoxicity is the medical term for cardiovascular damage that can occur following certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy to the chest.
This damage can result in the development of abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure, so early detection is paramount and preventative measures are critical in preserving heart function and quality of life.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cardiotoxicity?
Different cancer treatments can lead to different types of cardiotoxicity but it often results in the following symptoms:
- Chest Pain
- Heart Palpitations (fast-beating, fluttering heart)
- Shortness of Breath
- Coughing Spells
- Fluid Retention & Swelling (particularly of the abdomen and/or legs)
Need A Cardiologist?
If you do not have an established cardiologist but need evaluation or treatment, reach out to the Sarasota Memorial Heart Pavilion at (941) 917-7777.
Our Sarasota Memorial Cardio-Oncology Program has received Center of Excellence Silver Designation from the International Cardio-Oncology Program.
Cardiotoxicity may also be present without symptoms, but still be detectable by a physician evaluating heart function.
How Do Doctors Watch For Cardiotoxicity?
When keeping an eye out for cardiotoxicity, physicians are looking for changes to the patient’s heart function throughout the course of their cancer treatment.
To do this, they first need to establish a starting point, or a baseline, with what is called a cardio-oncology echocardiogram. This non-invasive exam uses sound waves to measure the heart’s movements, health and strength before any cancer treatment has begun.
By repeating these tests during and after treatment, physicians can track heart function and detect any changes early on. Cardiac MRIs, cardiac stress tests and cardiac CT scans may also be used to image the heart and look for any signs of cardiotoxicity.
What If I Have Symptoms Of Cardiotoxicity?
If you are currently experiencing symptoms of severe heart complication, such as persistent heart palpitations, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath or chest pain, call 911 and get to an ER as soon as possible.
Anyone who has experienced symptoms of cardiotoxicity should be seen by a cardiologist within two weeks of first presenting symptoms. This allows for timely delivery of preventative treatment against congestive heart failure. More frequent monitoring will be used to confirm and a heart failure practitioner will likely be brought on board.
Cardiotoxicity can often be treated via medication, such as beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors. And some cardiotoxicity may even be reversable. Some types of cardiotoxicity are irreversible, however, and may require long-term treatment or surgery.
To learn more about cardiac services offered by Sarasota Memorial, click here.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY.