Cardio-Oncology

Some lifesaving cancer treatments have side effects that can damage your heart.

Research shows that people who receive cardio-oncology care during cancer treatment have better long-term heart health than those who don’t.

These side effects can cause new short- or long-term problems such as:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Cardiomyopathy (decreased pumping ability)
  • Ischemia (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle)
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)

The University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center is one of the few centers in the state with a cardio-oncology program. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, we’ll monitor you frequently during treatment. We’ll also monitor you after recovery, for as long as we think it’s necessary.

Our goal is to catch any signs of heart disease as early as possible and treat it as soon as possible.

Cardio-oncologists dedicated to keeping your heart healthy

Your risk for heart problems related to cancer treatment is only higher if you undergo certain types of treatments for certain types of cancer. These treatments and their cardiovascular side effects include:

  • Radiation therapy to the chest: Chest radiation increases your chances of developing myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart). It can also damage the heart valves or your coronary arteries. If left untreated, any of these problems can lead to heart failure.
  • Chemotherapy: Some types of chemotherapy can damage the heart muscle, while others increase your risk of blood clots. This can lead to complications such as heart failure, stroke, and arrhythmia—including dangerous types of arrhythmia that can cause sudden cardiac death.
  • Other cancer drugs: Newer types of cancer medicine, such as targeted therapies for breast cancer and certain immunotherapy drugs, can also damage the heart. Complications include myocarditis and left-sided heart failure.

UI Heart and Vascular Center specialists have a deep understanding of the link between cancer treatment and heart disease and the benefits and risks of each treatment.

We work together to help you beat cancer while minimizing your risk of serious heart problems. And if problems arise, we coordinate treatments that help prevent disease progression or serious complications.

Cardiovascular care for cancer survivors

Even though many of our patients are newly diagnosed with cancer, we also see people who had cancer treatments earlier in life. That’s because certain cardiovascular problems may not show up until years later.

You may benefit from a consultation with one of our cardio-oncologists if you:

  • Had cancer treatment during childhood, which can affect the heart
  • Have ever received radiation to your chest

We can help you understand your cardiovascular risks, recommend a screening plan, and coordinate any services you need to prevent or treat heart problems.

What to expect

We use a proactive, team-based approach to cancer care that enhances early diagnosis and treatment of heart problems.

Risk assessment

Before you begin any cancer therapies, we can see if you have any risk factors that increase your chance of developing cardiotoxic side effects. Your risk may be higher if you:

  • Are 60 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Have a history of heart disease
  • Have diabetes
  • Smoke
  • Will receive high-dose radiation to your chest
  • Will receive certain cancer medications

Cardiovascular screenings

Once we understand your risks, we’ll let you know how often we’ll screen your heart and what tests you’ll need. Ongoing monitoring helps us detect heart problems early, when they’re often easier to treat and less likely to interrupt your cancer care.

The tests you’ll need depend on your risk factors and any symptoms you develop. We offer the full range of cardiac imaging procedures, including echocardiograms, cardiac CT scans, and cardiac MRI.

Access to advanced treatments

If your test results show any signs of heart disease, you’ll receive prompt care and support from UI Heart and Vascular Center cardiovascular experts. Depending on how your heart is affected, your treatments may include:

  • Medications that help lower your blood pressure, regulate your heartbeat, or reduce inflammation in the tissue around your heart
  • Interventional procedures to get rid of blood clots or drain excess fluid around your heart
  • Implanted devices that help your heart pump blood (such as a ventricular assist device) or restore normal heart rhythm (pacemaker)

We also offer advanced treatments for patients who develop serious complications. These include heart valve surgery and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).

Cardio-oncology tests and treatments

Cardio-oncology conditions treated

Do you think you should see a cardio-oncologist?

If you’re about to undergo cancer treatment and want to protect your heart, a cardio-oncologist may be able to help. Talk to your oncologist or primary care provider about getting a referral to our cardio-oncology program.

Care Team