Inova Cardio-Oncology Program Expands Services to Protect Long-Term Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular effects from cancer treatment can develop years later and are the second leading cause of death among cancer survivors. Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program prevents, detects and treats heart issues in people whose lives are touched by cancer. It draws on the world-class expertise of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute and Inova Schar Heart and Vascular.  

Co-founders Kelly C. Epps-Anderson, MD, and Jennifer A Shea, MD, started the program in 2019 working closely with Inova Schar Cancer oncologists and four additional cardiologists to launch Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program to protect the hearts of cancer patients and survivors. They are now building upon these efforts with the recent addition of Ana Barac, MD, PhD, D’Aniello Chair, Cardio-Oncology, who has established herself as a leader in the field of cardio-oncology.

Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program

Cardio-oncology is a cardiac subspecialty focusing on heart damage (cardiotoxicity) due to cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Dr. Barac is a nationally recognized cardio-oncology expert who holds multiple leadership positions at the national level to advance cardio-oncology practices. Efforts to date involve establishing specialized cardiovascular care guidelines for cancer patients and survivors.

“This program fills a need in offering comprehensive care for our cancer patients and capitalizes on a collaborative approach that brings the expertise of both cardiology and oncology together to assure the best possible long-term outcomes for our patients,” according to Rebecca Kaltman, MD an oncologist who practices at the Inova Saville Cancer Screening and Prevention Center, located across the street from Inova Fairfax Hospital on the Inova Center for Personalized Health campus.

“As cancer treatments improve, people are living longer,” Dr. Barac said. “It is important to optimize their quality of life by preventing and managing heart disease. I’m looking forward to working with the rest of the Inova team to advance long-term heart health for our patients.”

In her new role, Dr. Barac is working with a select group of cardiologists with expertise in cardio-oncology to advance long-term heart health for people who have had cancer. These efforts are an extension of the successful work of Dr. Epps-Anderson, Dr. Shea and the rest of the team.

Extending the Reach of Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program

Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program’s initial focus was identifying and treating cardiotoxicity in breast cancer patients. The program now has its sights set on working with patients who have other cancer types, including melanoma and lymphoma, as well as lung, colorectal, prostate, and head and neck cancers. The team is also exploring potential heart complications of newer treatments such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy.  

Earlier detection of heart disease linked to cancer treatment continues to be another area of focus. Under the leadership of Dr. Epps-Anderson and Dr. Shea, the cardio-oncology team established a partnership with Inova’s oncologists, making it easier to identify patients at risk for heart issues. Expanding these efforts is an important priority for Dr. Barac.

“Initial cardio-oncology efforts focused on increasing cardiotoxicity awareness. Now, we are working toward identifying at-risk patients earlier – sometimes, shortly after diagnosis – so they can avoid heart failure and other complications,” said Dr. Barac.

Cardio-Oncology Research

Building on existing cardiovascular and cancer research will be an important aspect of the cardio-oncology program’s expansion.

Biomarkers are special molecules the body produces in response to specific types of cancer, and Inova is home to one of the nation’s premier biomarker labs. Dr. Barac and her team will explore the use of biomarkers to help predict which patients face a higher risk of cardiotoxicity.

The team is also looking forward to expanding new clinical research efforts to investigate outcomes in patients with both cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Are Cardio-Oncology Services Right for Me?

It’s important to know that not everyone with a cancer diagnosis or who receives chemotherapy is at high risk for heart issues, according to Dr. Barac. Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program assesses risk throughout your cancer care journey: at diagnosis, during treatment and into survivorship.

If there is a concern, you will have an echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to produce detailed images of your heart and can show the early signs of cardiomyopathy and heart failure. The team uses cardiac MRI in situations when additional information about the heart muscle is needed, as well as exercise testing.

The decision of whether to see a cardiovascular specialist is personalized and depends on the type of cancer treatment that you may be receiving as well as your history of heart disease. Inova’s cardio-oncology team also takes your family’s history of heart problems into consideration.

How Cardio-Oncology Services Can Help You

If you are at a higher risk for cardiotoxicity, cardiologists work closely with your oncology team to tailor your cancer treatments to protect your heart as much as possible. You may need periodic testing to assess how your heart is tolerating therapy. If you show signs of cardiotoxicity, the cardio-oncology team works with your oncologists to adjust your treatment plan.

Because cardiotoxicity issues can arise years after cancer treatment, Inova’s cardio-oncology team continues caring for you well into survivorship. This care is personalized based on your risk of heart issues and may include periodic echocardiograms to check for delayed heart complications. This makes it easier to catch heart issues in earlier stages, when they’re easier to treat. This comprehensive approach optimizes your heart health for years to come.

Cardio-Oncology Services Near You

Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program has locations throughout Northern Virginia, making it easier to fit assessments and treatments into your busy schedule. Our team can see you at the Inova Cardiology offices in Fairfax and Alexandria. Consultations are also available at Virginia Heart offices in Arlington, Alexandria, Vienna, Reston and Leesburg.

Contact Us

To learn more about cardio-oncology services, including testing and consultations, call us at 571-472-2972 or visit Inova’s Cardio-Oncology Program.

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