Cancer is a scary topic, especially when you are also facing common heart conditions on top of it. Dr. Isaac Rhea of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is the only board-certified cardio-oncologist in the state of Tennessee and is working with patients in the Memphis, TN, area, treating both heart health and cancer care in the newly emerging field of cardio-oncology.
Your Health Blog interviewed Dr. Rhea, and here is the valuable information he had to share that could help improve both your heart health and cancer care.
What is Cardio-oncology?
In recent years, cancer patients have increased odds of beating cancer, but we now see that a group of these survivors develop heart disease earlier than the general population. This new field of science, called cardio-oncology, aims to improve the heart health of cancer patients and survivors.
Cardio-oncology is a marriage between two of the biggest causes of death in the US – heart disease and cancer - and offers a unique approach to care that marries the science and research of both fields.
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is proud to have the only board-certified cardio-oncologist in Tennessee who brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in this emerging field.
The recent publication of cardio-oncology guidelines by the European Society of Cardiology represents an advancement in the field and a heightened focus on cardio-oncology’s role in cancer care. With 26 million cancer survivors expected by 2040, most of whom will be at high risk for heart disease, these guidelines offer standardization in this growing field.
While some cancer treatments may cause heart damage, our team can assess a patient’s risk before treatment and manage any existing heart condition. We work hand-in-hand with the Methodist Cancer Institute team to monitor the patient’s heart during their course of treatment and provide a long-term care plan to help our patients get back to a meaningful life, doing what they love.
What Cancer Patients Need Cardio-oncology?
Not everyone who receives cancer treatment will need cardio-oncology care. Our program works closely with the Methodist Cancer Institute team of clinicians and other cancer teams in the region to provide expert care to patients who are receiving known cancer therapies that may damage the heart and may have risk factors for heart disease or are already being treated for heart disease. Other patients who may qualify for cardio-oncology include those who develop heart-related issues during or after treatment, or any patient whose oncologist may feel uncomfortable continuing optimal cancer therapy due to heart concerns.
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What Cardiac Conditions Should People in Memphis be Aware of?
An important cardiac condition people should be aware of is amyloidosis. Amyloidosis is a common but treatable cardiac condition that is currently underdiagnosed. There are two forms affecting the heart: AL (or primary) amyloidosis, which is related to some blood cancers, and transthyretin (or TTR) amyloidosis, which is unrelated to cancer. The current focus is on TTR amyloidosis, which causes a certain type of heart failure, typically affects people over 65 and only became treatable about three years ago. This heart failure causes the heart’s walls to thicken to the point that it can no longer effectively pump blood. Our team is dedicated to educating providers and increasing awareness of this condition, especially among Memphis’s African American population, where a genetic form of the disease is surprisingly common.
Signs and Symptoms of TTR amyloidosis can include:
- Fatigue or feeling weak
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Increased swelling in the legs
- Dizziness on standing
- Normal or Low blood pressure
- Numbness/tingling or pain in the hands and feet
How Can You Begin Your Heart Health Journey?
As it is National Heart Month, now is an excellent time to talk with your doctor about your risk of heart disease. We can’t control getting older, but we can take steps to exercise and eat healthier and develop heart-healthy routines. It's never too late to prioritize your heart health.
At Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, our cardio-oncology program is dedicated to improving the heart health of cancer patients and survivors through an evidence-based approach to care.
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