New Initiative Aims to Protect Hearts of Breast Cancer Patients

Stethoscope in the shape of a heart

As a breast cancer survivor, the last thing Mary Lynn Brown expected to hear was the treatment that saved her life had inadvertently injured her heart. She wasn't alone.

Breast cancer patients may be at increased risk of heart diseases, and now, Florida Hospital is launching a cardio-oncology initiative designed to prevent or minimize the adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation on these patients.

The initiative, made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundations, combines state-of-the-art cardiac software, a care coordinator and a multidisciplinary approach to treating breast cancer patients.

Physicians can monitor a patient's heart function before irreversible damage occurs, and if there's a sign of cardiac decline, the multidisciplinary team will be able to adjust cancer treatment or prescribe medications to protect the patient's heart.

'When we care for patients, we can't look at just the cancer or just the heart disease. We need to treat the whole person, and this new initiative strengthens our wholistic approach to healing,' said Dr. Patricia Guerrero, a cardiologist with Florida Heart Group and medical director of Florida Hospital's women and cardiovascular disease program. 'We are appreciative for the continued support the Hearst Foundations has offered to our cardiovascular program and are confident this will have a significant impact on our patients' health.'

Guerrero treated Brown in 2016, six years after she was declared cancer free. Brown thought her allergies caused shortness of breath, but Guerrero found heart disease was to blame.

Research shows up to 28 percent of women receiving chemotherapy will develop a weakening of the heart, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017.

'Florida Hospital has outstanding clinical programs, and we are pleased to support initiatives that further enhance their services and provide Central Floridians vital care,' said Ligia Cravo, senior program officer at the Hearst Foundations.

The new initiative launched at Florida Hospital Orlando and Florida Hospital Altamonte, and is expected to expand to the Apopka and Celebration campuses in the upcoming months.

The Hearst Foundations' grant also includes ongoing support of Florida Hospital's Heart Care Center ' a program that seeks to improve the cardiovascular health of underserved and uninsured heart patients in Central Florida.