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New Ascension Seton program treats cancer in heart disease patients, vice versa

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman
Dr. Yan Liu is the head of cardio-oncology program at Ascension Seton.

How are heart disease care and cancer care related? Often, both the diseases happen in the same people, says Dr. Yan Liu, the director of the new cardio-oncology program from Ascension Seton.

"To have cancer and then be told that your heart is failing is not what we want to have," he says. 

Many of the risk factors are the same, including smoking, obesity and being sedentary.

Liu points to a 2015 study that found that 23% of people diagnosed with lung cancer had cardiovascular disease. 

One of the things scientists have discovered is the same genes that can be involved in the likelihood of developing cancer are also involved in the propensity of having a heart attack or another form of cardiovascular disease, Liu says.

A medical professional walks inside the Dell Seton Medical Center.  Ascension Seton now has a cardio-oncology program to treat both cancer and heart disease patients.

Doctors also know that some of the treatments for cancer might elevate the risk of cardiac disease later in life. 

A 2015 National Institutes of Health study found that 40% of childhood cancer survivors 30 years after cancer had chronic life-threatening diseases. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for people who had cancer as a child, that study found.

Liu says in the new clinic, he is seeing patients who are in active treatment for their cancer, as well as people who had cancer in the past and now are having heart problems.

"Cardio-oncology is such an emerging field," Liu says. It attracts doctors who are experts in the latest cancer treatments as well as cardiology.

With active cancer patients, he might recommend a different treatment if he knows that a patient already has heart disease or risk factors for developing it.

With people who have past cancer diagnoses, he's looking for early warning signs of cardiovascular disease and working on prevention as well as monitoring them more closely through imaging.

"The care team is striving to prevent, mitigate and manage cardiovascular disease in the cancer patient and cancer survivor," he says.