Breast Cancer Survivors Not Receiving Follow-Up Heart Scans

Approximately 38% of women who had initial echocardiograms received a follow-up scan.

Although the toxic effects of chemotherapy on the heart are well known, a recent study suggests that women who receive breast cancer treatment are not receiving recommended follow-up heart scans.

Chemotherapy can weaken heart muscle, which renders the heart less effective at pumping blood. This can eventually lead to heart failure and death.

"We've been seeing an increasing number of patients in the heart failure clinic following chemotherapy. This triggered our interest in finding out why and we wanted to see the scale of this problem. We were able to start doing this and evaluate treatment practices by accessing and analyzing anonymous medical records,” said Jagdeep Singh, MBBS, MRCP, MRCPS, clinical research fellow. "Improvements in chemotherapy mean we've been able to transform breast cancer from an often fatal condition into a very treatable disease. But, due to the real risk of heart failure, our findings show that doctors need to be more vigilant and institute protective heart treatments earlier."

Researchers in the study, presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference, examined medical records of 1299 patients with breast cancer from the CHEMOCARE database.

The patients included were treated with either anthracycline alone or combined with the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab between January 2003 and December 2014. The study revealed that 51% of the patients had an echocardiogram to determine their heart function before chemotherapy, while just 38% of those women had follow-up scans, despite the guidelines.

"Thanks to research, more women are surviving breast cancer than ever before but it is very worrying that some of them go on to develop life threatening heart disease as a consequence of their chemotherapy,” concluded Peter Weissberg, MA, MD FRCP FMedSci. “This research suggests that oncologists and cardiologists should work together from the outset to minimize the detrimental effects of chemo on the heart, while ensuring the best chance of survival from the cancer."