Bon Secours Cancer Institute Implements New Cardio-Oncology Prevention Program

Physicians at the Bon Secours Cancer Institute are now working together with Bon Secours cardiologists to improve heart health for cancer patients through prevention, collaborative evaluation and monitoring of long-term cardiovascular effects. Through a unique and integrated Cardio-Oncology Prevention Program, Bon Secours patients who are receiving specific chemotherapy and radiation paths will now have the option of a more thorough treatment program aimed to prevent the adverse effects on the heart. The development of this dual-approach program is currently the only one of its kind in the greater Richmond area.

Advances in cancer treatment technology over the past 30 years have led to higher survival rates, but while these methods are successful at treating the disease, they may cause high-risk problems in the heart. Cardiotoxicity is a common adverse effect of many cancer treatments where the heart experiences muscle damage, becomes weaker and is not as efficient in pumping and circulating blood. Chemotherapy treatment with certain drugs, such as anthracyclines and HER2-directed therapies, as well as left side radiation therapy could also potentially cause cardiac damage. These treatments may weaken the heart, increase blood pressure and even though rare, potentially cause severe heart failure.

The Cardio-Oncology Prevention Program’s lead physicians, William Irvin, Jr., M.D., in oncology and Christine Browning, M.D., in cardiology, will monitor patients whose cancer treatment and lifestyle may put them at increased heart risk levels and work closely to develop a comprehensive plan for assessing, diagnosing and treating cardiotoxicity.

“The primary focus of this integrated approach is for the safety of the patients in our program,” said Dr. Irvin, an oncologist at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center. “Dr. Browning and I are focused on making sure the patient is cared for throughout chemotherapy treatment and will be constantly monitored for any possible heart issues.”

Patients who are potential candidates for cardio-oncology prevention treatment are those who will receive cancer treatment that is potentially toxic or damaging to their hearts. The majority of patients who begin treatment have no current or prior history of heart problems, but the new strategy is for a cardiac evaluation prior to treatment to identify any unforeseen risks. If one’s blood pressure becomes elevated during treatment, then the patient may receive medicine to control the blood pressure and protect the heart. Assessment and diagnosis may be more intensive if blood pressure is already at cautionary high or low levels prior to cancer treatment.

“By using a team approach, Dr. Irvin and I can work together to improve a patient’s health — even before starting the first cancer treatment,” said Dr. Browning. “Getting together and talking about the best and safest treatment for each patient is key to improving heart health for cancer survivors.”

The program, which began in 2015, is currently available to all patients of the Bon Secours Cancer Institute. The program has already seen success in patients. Richmond resident Gail Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015 when she found she also had high blood pressure. Her cardio-oncology team at Bon Secours has actively been monitoring Jones’ blood pressure, diet and medication. “If it hadn’t been for this program, I really wouldn’t have thought about my heart risks, which could have later led me to have much larger issues,” said Jones. “The doctors educated me on what I needed to do, and I actually felt really good knowing that the doctors were working together to make sure that I received the best treatment.”

Bon Secours provides the Richmond community with the most experienced radiologists and cardiologists, expanding collaborative capabilities and convenient locations. Some facilities offer walk-in appointments and deliver results during the appointment. Call 804-627-5660 for more information.