Breast Cancer Survivor Treated for Heart Issue Makes Gift
Grateful patient supports doctor’s life-saving research into early detection of heart failure in cancer patients
Thirteen years ago, Kim Sander received her first breast cancer diagnosis. A decade later, she discovered that the cancer medication she was given in 2008 was causing heart problems.
"I knew that the medication I was on could affect the heart, but I was told my lab work was good," Mrs. Sander says. "So when I came to Cleveland Clinic, I was surprised to learn that I did have heart muscle damage and was so grateful that my doctor here recognized the problem."
Today, Mrs. Sander’s heart muscle is strong again, thanks to the Cardio-Oncology Center at Cleveland Clinic. And her breast cancer is in remission.
"Research is showing that some of the most effective treatments for cancer — especially treatments for certain types of breast cancer — can lead to heart disease," explains Juan Carlos Plana, MD, Co-director of Cleveland Clinic’s Cardio-Oncology Center. "We are here to monitor and address any and all heart issues that might arise for cancer patients before, during or after their course of treatment."
Mrs. Sander’s experience inspired her to make a philanthropic gift supporting Dr. Plana’s research into early detection of heart failure in cancer patients caused by medications. The next step in his research is an international multidisciplinary trial.
Monitoring for Heart Issues
Today, physicians check a cancer patient’s ejection fraction (EF) percentage to monitor for heart issues. The EF is the force at which the heart muscle pushes blood from the left ventricle.
As standard procedure, anything at a 50 percent or above EF is considered safe. While Mrs. Sander was in this safe range with an EF of 51, she was beginning to have flushing symptoms and her blood pressure was up. In addition, her EF had declined from 62 percent from just a couple of years earlier.
When Dr. Plana saw these readings, he ordered a new, more sensitive kind of cardiac imaging called strain echocardiography. From this test, he clearly saw that her heart muscle was weakened. He immediately prescribed an ace inhibitor and beta blocker to reverse the damage. Within a few months, Mrs. Sander’s EF rose, and her heart was on the mend.
Dr. Plana advises that even before beginning a cancer treatment regimen, patients should talk to their doctors about the possible cardiovascular side effects. "Patients’ hearts should be monitored by a cardiologist throughout their cancer treatment," he says.
Why Cleveland Clinic?
Mrs. Sander, now 54, is from Pemberville, Ohio (near Toledo). She came to Cleveland Clinic in 2010 seeking a higher level of care after she had her third recurrence of breast cancer. She took part in a drug trial that included Herceptin® in combination with other drugs. As part of the drug trial, heart monitoring was required, and soon she was referred to Dr. Plana and the Cardio-Oncology Center.
"I learned that not all doctors know when to take a closer look at the symptoms," she says, "and I am so thankful that Dr. Plana did."
Today, Mrs. Sander continues taking heart medications, and with her cancer in remission, she has been off treatment for more than a year.
"It is such a relief," she says. "And now I want to help get the word out to other cancer patients that they need to talk to their doctors and pay close attention to their hearts during treatment."