What is a Cardio-Oncologist and Do I Need One?


The American Heart Association estimates more than 121 million adults have cardiovascular disease. How are conditions like coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and heart valve disease affected if you are suddenly diagnosed with cancer and need treatment?  Or, what if you develop heart disease from cancer treatment? This is when a cardio-oncology doctor can help.

“Heart disease is common in the United States, add to that the increased number of cancer survivors on the planet, who are now living with heart disease because of their cancer,” says Doug Flora, M.D., medical oncologist and executive medical director of oncology services at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “You can’t take good care of a cancer patient without taking good care of their heart.”

What is Cardio-Oncology?

Cardio-Oncology is an emerging area in medicine that focuses on the heart care of someone with cancer. It is not only on treating a person with heart disease that develops cancer but also on preventing and treatment of heart problems that might be caused by cancer treatment.

Darek Sanford, M.D., who recently joined St. Elizabeth Healthcare as a cardio-oncologist says, “The first step begins soon after your diagnosis of cancer. We identify patients that are at the highest risk for heart disease and monitor them to watch for problems that may arise during treatment.”

Imaging of the heart is used to monitor the health of the heart. If problems are found, there are treatments that can help slow the weakening of the heart muscle or prevent it from deteriorating even further.

Treating Both Your Heart and Your Cancer

There are cancer treatments that can cause heart failure, hypertension, heart rhythm problems, and inflammation of the heart muscle.

“We know there are some treatments or medicines that have a history of affecting the heart,” says Dr. Flora, “But new cancer treatments are being developed all the time in chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted precision therapies.”

There are 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, and heart disease is the second leading cause of death among survivors. Many survivors are left with a reduced quality of life because of cancer-fighting drugs. Heart care prevention in cancer treatment is critical to survivorship quality of life.

Dr. Flora says, “We can’t underestimate the impact on survivorship by eliminating, reducing, or preventing the damage that can occur to the heart.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare is committed to improving quality and access to cancer care in the region. The Cancer Center is focused on holistic, patient-centered care, which addresses all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of anyone fighting cancer. To make an appointment with Dr. Sanford for a cardio-oncology consult, call (859) 905-3073.