Fox Chase Cancer Center, Temple Health work together to protect woman's heart after breast cancer

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- Fighting cancer means more than killing tumors.

Doctors also try to protect other organs in the body.

For the heart, that's spawned a growing medical field: cardio-oncology.

And Bonnie Ettenger of Quakertown is grateful for that protection.

"I have the BRCA 2 gene, so I was aware I was high risk," says Bonnie.

Still, she was shocked to have breast cancer at age 32.

"I had just gotten engaged, like, I was starting my life," she recalls.

Oncologist Dr. Elias Obeid of Fox Chase Cancer Center says that because some drugs for Bonnie's HER-2 positive cancer could affect the heart, she was referred to cardiologist Dr. Eman Hamad of Temple Health to assess and monitor her heart.

In cancer treatment, both chemotherapy and radiation can cause cardiac side effects.

"Some of them decrease the function of the pump, some of them can cause bad rhythms. Some of them can cause an inflammatory process to happen," notes Dr. Hamad.

Some patients may also run a higher risk aside from the treatment.

"Somebody with hypertension - high blood pressure - with diabetes, or, you know, a history of heart issues in the past," says Dr. Obeid.

Dr. Obeid says it's important to be at a center with access to experienced cardiologists, noting that oncologists don't always have that service available to them.

"A cardio-oncologist is somebody who sees those conditions on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, not something that would happen every month or two," he says.

"We don't want to cure them from the cancer, yet have them suffer for the rest of their life from heart failure," he adds.

Dr. Hamad notes, "Working together as a multidisciplinary team is critical."

Bonnie did encounter problems late in her chemotherapy...

"I had 4 infusions left, and my ejection fraction went down. So I got set up with Dr. Hamad immediately," she recalls.

And it happened again late in her pregnancy with her son Colton.

She delivered him safely, recovered, and is now expecting a daughter.

"They've just been by my side this whole time and I'm so grateful for that," says Bonnie.

Most heart side effects go away once treatment is done, but it's important to be monitored then, too, to catch and treat any which don't disappear.
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