New UW Health Cardio-Oncology Clinic Bridges an Important Gap
MADISON - After being diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2009, Gina Wentling wanted to be sure the cancer never came back. So in September of that year, she began taking Herceptin, a drug designed to prevent recurrence in patients whose tumors over-express a particular type of protein.
One big problem: Herceptin can sometimes temporarily impair a patient's heart function.
Luckily for Gina, her medical care team included not just a primary-care physician, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist, but also Dr. Steven Ewer, a UW Health cardiologist who specializes in working with cancer patients.
Ewer heads a new UW Health cardio-oncology clinic designed for oncologists and patients facing heart disease and cancer at the same time.
The combination of cancer and heart disease is not an uncommon phenomenon. Certain chemotherapy or radiation treatments can damage the heart, causing serious problems such as heart failure, valve problems and coronary artery disease. Patients who have heart disease prior to their cancer also face unique challenges that can complicate their treatment. Working closely with the experts at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, Ewer's cardio-oncology clinic is designed to cater to both.
"Treating the whole patient requires a very different perspective," says Ewer, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine with UW School of Medicine and Public Health. "Traditionally, cardiologists focused on heart problems and oncologists focused on cancer. Few people try to bridge that gap."
For patients like Gina Wentling, the additional perspective can be critical. Seven months after beginning Herceptin treatments, the cardiovascular side effects began to show up in her echocardiograms. That's when Dr. Ewer was called in to help.
"One echocardiogram showed heart function well below normal," recalls Wentling. "I was advised by my oncologist, on the recommendation of Dr. Ewer, to discontinue Herceptin until my heart function returned to normal. It did, and I started getting treatments again. But then the next test was below normal. That's when Dr. Ewer recommended to my oncologist that we discontinue Herceptin altogether."
Wentling is glad the test led her medical team to minimize her risk. UW Carbone Cancer Center oncologists also appreciate Ewer's important contribution to the multidisciplinary approach they use to treat cancer patients.
"In the past few years, we've become increasingly aware of the cardiovascular risks that sometimes come along with our therapies," says Dr. Glenn Liu, a UW Carbone Cancer Center oncologist. "Partnering with Dr. Ewer and the cardio-oncology clinic has provided our patients additional expertise to help minimize these risks and manage cardiovascular issues should they arise."
A recent newlywed, Gina Wentling (nee Anderson) is now enjoying a cancer-free life. Her experience has taught her much-including and especially the importance of having a team of expert specialists standing behind her.
"Cancer doesn't just affect you while you're getting treatment," she notes. "There are many lasting effects, from scar tissue to lymphedema risk to heart problems. Having people who know the risks of your treatments and how to mitigate them is huge."
Date Published: 07/30/2010