Cancer and Your Heart: Our Cardiology Oncology Program

Cancer and Your Heart

When you or a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, there are naturally many concerns, some beyond the actual cancer. Regardless of what part of the body the cancer is located in, it can sometimes lead to other health issues affecting things like nutrition, physical strength and coordination, emotional well-being and the health of your heart. Your healthcare team will want to assess and monitor these conditions and other concerns you may have, and guide you to the appropriate treatments.

If you have heart problems before you start cancer treatment, or one of your doctors thinks you may be at risk for developing problems during or after your cancer treatments, you may be referred to a cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of the heart. Not every patient with cancer needs to see a heart specialist, but here are some factors that may make it likely your doctor will want you to be evaluated:

  • Your age
  • The type and location of your cancer
  • Current or prior heart conditions or diseases
  • Circulatory concerns or problems, such as high blood pressure, blood clots or stroke
  • Risk factors such as smoking, obesity or family history of heart problems
  • Cancer treatments in the past, even in childhood
  • The type of chemotherapy treatments you will need
  • The location of radiation therapy you’ll be given

Medical Experts Working Together

At Stony Brook, the Cardio-Oncology team closely observes and cares for patients with cancer for heart problems. The cardiologists and oncologists from Stony Brook Heart Institute and Stony Brook Cancer Center work together to help protect your heart health.
Through comprehensive heart monitoring and treatment before, during and after cancer therapy,
The Cardio-Oncology team can:

  • Detect possible risk factors for heart or circulatory complications
  • Spot early signs of potential damage to the heart
  • Make timely interventions to help prevent or reverse cardiac dysfunction

How It Works

Your doctor will discuss your personal medical history with you. From this alone, or in combination with additional diagnostic tests, your doctor will determine whether you would benefit from a visit with a cardiologist. Generally, the following conditions may warrant an appointment:

  • Pre-existing heart disease at the time you are diagnosed with cancer
  • A history of heart failure or if you have previously had a heart attack, blood clot or stroke
  • One or more risk factors for heart problems, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), a longstanding smoking history, obesity or diabetes

Cancer Treatments and Heart Disease

Certain cancer treatments, while effective in fighting cancer, may have side effects that can damage your heart during or after your treatments. For example:

  • Some chemotherapy drugs are considered taxing to your heart. This means they may weaken the heart muscle, cause heart attacks or irregular heart rhythms or circulatory system problems such as high blood pressure. The effects could show up during cancer treatment, or even in the future, after treatment has ended.
  • Radiation therapy, if given in an area that includes your chest, may cause some heart problems as well. Types of possible complications include abnormalities in the heart muscle that affect its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, damage to one or more of the heart’s valves and heart attack.
  • Radiation therapy and chemotherapy given together may increase the potential for damage to the heart.Your doctors will carefully monitor you to help avoid or limit adverse side effects to the heart.

And it’s important to remember that most people do not experience heart damage when undergoing cancer treatments. But if you’re in one of the risk groups, you will likely have a heart function test before treatments start, and follow-up testing if needed while you’re receiving treatments and possibly after treatments have stopped.

Our Team

Stony Brook Heart Institute:

Kristine Hanni Jang, DO
Co-Director, Cardio-Oncology Program

Smadar Kort, MD

Stony Brook Cancer Center:

Lea N. Baer, MD
Co-Director, Cardio-Oncology Program

Alison Stopeck, MD

For more information or to find out if you would benefit from a cardio-oncology consultation,
call the Stony Brook Cardio-Oncology Program at (631) 444-9746.