(l-r) Sarah Hull, MD, Lauren Baldassarre, MD, Ben Lin, MD, PhD and Jessica Marie Coviello, RN
Lauren A. Baldassarre, MD, Assistant Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Diagnostic Radiology, is Director of the Cardio-Oncology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital. The program is designed to help address the cardio-toxic side effects of chemotherapy treatment, as well as the confounding problem of co-existing cardiac disease and cancer. The Program also provides pre-surgical and pre-treatment cardiac evaluation for patients with cancer.
The service began in response to emerging data, which indicates that newly developed drugs for cancer treatment are having unanticipated side effects. Drugs such as Herceptin, which is very effective in the treatment of breast cancer, can have cardio-toxic side effects that are just beginning to be understood and researched.
The difficulty when dealing with cardio-toxic side effects is that they can often mask themselves as normal effects from the cancer treatment itself, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. If it is determined that a patient has a pre-existing heart dysfunction, Dr. Baldassarre can help make decisions of how treatment can be optimized, and establish what the baseline function is for continued monitoring.
If a patient is found to have cardio-toxicities during treatment with chemotherapy, the oncologist, the patient, and Cardio-Oncology Program will work together to decide what the best course of action is. There are many methods for treating mild heart failure, which would be beneficial if the cancer is responding to the chemotherapeutic drug. In some cases, collaboration with the oncologist will need to take place in order to change the chemotherapy to something that's less cardio-toxic. The point is to kill the cancer cells, without damaging other areas. The goal of this Program is to help patients through their treatment so they have the best chance to be cured of their cancer.
Giving a patient as much information as possible about their treatment plan and what to expect is crucial. Another goal of the Cardio-Oncology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital is to provide specialty care for patients who have cancer to help them not only deal with the effects of their chemotherapy on heart function, but also evaluate patients with co-existing coronary artery disease and cancer for specialized therapy where there may be increased risk to the heart. With new chemotherapeutic agents being developed, people in Connecticut are living much longer lives and a healthy heart is crucial to being able to enjoy that.
Patients can be referred to the Program by calling (203) 785-7867.