'Cure' may be fatal; Cancer treatment can be toxic to the heart.

AuthorCollier, Geraldine A.

Byline: Geraldine A. Collier

If you were diagnosed with cancer, wouldn't it be only fair if life gave you a pass on other aliments -- no more head colds, no more cavities, no more flu?

It doesn't work that way.

But is it fair that people who survive cancer sometimes find the chemotherapy and radiation that saved them is then responsible for life-threatening heart diseases?

No, but it happens.

While some effects of cancer can be short-term, there are so-called "late effects'' that don't show up until months or even years after treatment.

Kara Kennedy, the only daughter of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was saved from lung cancer in 2002 by surgery and aggressive therapy. But some family members and medical experts think that the cancer treatment was responsible for dying at age 51 by a massive heart attack in 2011.

Closer to home, a retiree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute underwent aggressive treatment for breast cancer a decade ago. The treatment was successful, but damaged her heart to the extent that she then had to have a heart transplant -- also successful.

As more people survive cancer, the growing acknowledgment of the relationship between cancer treatments and ensuing cardiac issues has resulted in the establishment of a new medical specialty where cardiologists and oncologists team up to protect the hearts of patients undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Identifying himself as an 'onco-cardiologist' because most of his formal training has been in cardiology, Dr. Matthew E. McGuiness came to UMass Memorial Medical Center in July to coordinate a new "cardio-oncology'' clinic.

"Overall, most cancer patients will do very well,'' said Dr. McGuiness, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Heart-related issues "are experienced by a relatively small subset of patients.''

Besides heart attacks, cancer treatments can cause congestive heart failure -- an inability of the heart muscle to pump an adequate amount of blood to the rest of the body -- high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots or coronary artery blockage.

The creation of the cardio-oncology clinic and the addition of Dr. McGuiness' expertise mean "exceptional care'' for oncology patients, according to Dr. Alan G. Rosmarin, co-director of the UMass Memorial Health Care Cancer Center of Excellence. "It's a special service that is only rarely available,'' he added.

It's invaluable to have a...

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