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Protecting the hearts of cancer survivors

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Dr. Dinesh and Dr. Eitan
Dr. Eitan Amir (L), medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, is a key collaborator in the program at Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research led by Dr. Dinesh Thavendiranathan, (R), which monitors the cardiovascular health of cancer patients and survivors. (Photo: Ted Rogers Centre)

Living today in Canada are at least 800,000 people who have survived cancer. This figure will likely double by 2021 – meaning, by the most conservative estimate, Canada will be home to 1.5 million cancer survivors.

This is nothing but extremely positive, encouraging news.

As cancer treatments get more effective, and prognoses get better and better, it leaves behind individuals who will need to be monitored differently by the healthcare system. That is due to the disease they once had and the medications used to fight it.

These Canadians will, in what is an unfortunate truth, face a heightened risk of certain health complaints, the most serious of which occur in the heart. Cardio-oncology is an emerging field that focuses on heart conditions in patients who have been previously treated for cancer.

A new term: cardiotoxicity

The Ted Rogers Centre, in focusing on heart failure, has created Canada's largest program on cardiotoxicity – a term that broadens to include not only the after-effects of cancer, but other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis.

But, with the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre mere footsteps away, it was a timely and logical decision to begin first with protecting the hearts of those undergoing cancer treatment.

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