Cardio-oncology targets breast cancer patients' risk for heart problems

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Posted at 5:09 PM, Feb 12, 2021

SUFFOLK, Va. - Tanya Askew of Portsmouth has kicked breast cancer to the curb not once, but twice.

In remission less than a year, she now has another battle to fight, and that's heart disease.

"I didn't worry, I just started praying and I said 'Lord, this is in your hands, I don't have control of this,'" Askew told News 3.

After an echo-cardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, Askew learned that her heart was weak. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon diagnosis for breast cancer survivors.

Dr. Dena Krishnan, a preventative cardiologist with Bon Secours Mercy Health and one of Askew's doctors, said, "Six or seven years after a woman has fought and is in remission of her breast cancer, her largest risk is actually heart disease, not recurrence of the cancer."

Krishnan is also one of the few experts in the emerging field of cardio-oncology. As the name suggests, cardiologists and oncologists work together before, during and after cancer treatments to find solutions for patients.

"There are actually times where we have to work together and we actually might hold a round of chemotherapy, try to support the heart, and then once it's kind of strong enough to endure it again, then restart chemo," Krishnan aid. "Some of the most cardio-toxic medications are some of the most effective for breast cancer."

Even though the majority of cardio-oncology patients are breast cancer survivors, Krishnan said they're not the only ones at risk.

She said, "We know what types of patients are at higher risk, we know which chemotherapy agents are more cardio-toxic and how to do surveillance on these patients."

With this new knowledge Askew has changed her medications and is making small steps to keep her heart healthy.

"You have to have faith because if I didn't and just gave up I may not be here today," she said. "I can't stress this enough, please go and get checked."