Cancer Patients and Matters of the Heart—The Growing Field of Cardio-Oncology

Dr. Sam Daya talks about what cardio-oncology is and how the new UT Health North Campus Tyler MD Anderson Cancer Center is contributing to this growing field

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By Nabeeha Chaudhary
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
Phd Student in Media Studies
UT Austin Moody College of Communication

 
 

“Often the patient is at a higher level of emotional stress because of the cancer diagnoses and the last thing that they want to have is an additional problem related to the heart”—Dr. Sam Daya, cardiologist at UT Health North Campus Tyler, on working in an oncology setting.

As an internist, Dr. Sam Daya had a choice to make: oncology or cardiology. While he chose to train primarily in cardiology, he had the good fortune to spend part of his fellowship training at MD Anderson. During this time, he developed expertise in the burgeoning new field of cardio-oncology, which he currently practices at UT Health North Campus Tyler, part of the UT Health East Texas health system.” Cardio-oncology focuses on taking care of any heart related issues for patients with cancer before, during and after treatment.

Daya’s work with oncologists can be grouped into three broad areas. He collaborates with medical oncologists to work on optimizing current medications for patients if they develop any heart related problems during oncology treatments.  He consults with oncology surgeons who refer patients to him for pre-operative evaluations to make sure cardiac risk is minimized before going through surgery. And he collaborates with radiation oncologists who are planning radiation treatments involving the area around the heart.

Being able to help patients who already carry a diagnosis of cancer can be “phenomenally rewarding,” says Daya. He gives the example of a patient in her mid-60’s who had breast cancer successfully treated but developed cardiomyopathy from her cancer treatments. As a result, although the cancer was gone, she was unable to carry on her daily activities, including caring for a 7-year-old granddaughter who lives with her.

“She was really fatigued, didn’t have any energy,” says Daya. “Then over the course of about 3-6 months we got her cardiomyopathy treated. Now she has regained several aspects of her life. She is able to enjoy her granddaughter more, be more active, go out of the house.”

Although cardio-oncology is predominantly practiced in larger university settings, in bigger cities, Daya has found that being located in Tyler, while having connections to other UT institutions, has given him the best of both worlds. He collaborates closely with his oncology colleagues at the new UT Health North Campus Tyler MD Anderson Cancer Center, which was launched in 2016. He is also able to work with oncologists at the main MD Anderson campus in Houston, where he received his own cardio-oncology training.

One unique feature of the program in Tyler, says Daya, is that it allows for a model that may be defined as community cardio-oncology. The smaller size of the academic institution allows for deeper collaboration between the cardiology and oncology teams. At the same time, he and his colleagues can connect with specialists in Houston and elsewhere when necessary. This will get even easier over time as UT System’s Virtual Health Network, which allows secure sharing of records and telemedical consults between campuses, continues to be developed and refined.

“You can be a community teaching institution and also be world-class,” says Daya.

Daya believes that the creation of the Cancer Center will have a big impact in the area over the coming years. It should enable him and his colleagues to establish collaborations with other institutions and oncologists in the area, to expand clinical programs, and to institute regular heart screenings for patients who have had cancer treatments that put them at a higher risk of developing heart problems in the future. Ultimately, he would like to build up a formal cardio-oncology program, and to use the resulting data to ask and answer research questions, which in turn would optimize care for patients.

In all of this, says Daya, the goal will remain the same: for the people who see him to feel as though they’ve been cared for not just as patients, but as people.

“Before they leave my office, do they feel that they’ve got the best out of the time they spent with me and I’ve really made a difference to why they actually came to see me? That’s what drives any kind of work or research I do.”