Cardio-oncology booms but awareness lags


“Education and partnerships with oncology teams is the key,” said Dr. Barac. “Our traditional subspecialty training focused on ‘treating cancer’ and ‘treating cardiovascular disease.’ Learning about and seeing effective partnerships during training” is the best model to foster cardiology and oncology partnerships among early-career physicians, she suggested.

“What is the spectrum of knowledge required to be proficient in cardio-oncology, and how do we enhance training at the resident or fellowship level? How do we get [all cardiology] trainees exposed to this knowledge?” wondered Dr. Lenihan, who viewed cardio-oncology programs as a way to meet these needs. “Cardio-oncology is not an established subspecialty. A goal is to establish training requirements and expand training opportunities. And the whole field needs to contribute to clinical research. We need cardio-oncologists to share their experience and improve our level of research.”

ASCO’s cardiac dysfunction practice guideline, first released last December and formally published in March, is likely helping to further entrench cardio-oncology as a new subspecialty. The guideline was “a remarkable step forward,” said Dr. Barac. In addition to establishing a U.S. standard of care for preventing and monitoring cardiac dysfunction in cancer patients, “I use it as a guide for creation of referral pathways with my oncology colleagues, as well as in education of cardiovascular and oncology trainees,” she said in an interview.

Though produced primarily through ASCO’s leadership, the target audience for the guideline seems to be as much cardiologists as it is oncologists. Dissemination of the guideline to cardiologists snagged when it failed to appear in the cardiology literature. That wasn’t the original plan, said guideline participants.

“Before we started, it was agreed that both ASCO and the ACC would publish it. We had a [letter] signed by the president of the ACC saying the ACC would publish it,” recalled Dr. Lenihan, a guideline coauthor. “After all the details were settled, the ACC bailed. They said that they had changed their organizational structure and that they wouldn’t publish the guideline even though they had agreed to.” Not having the guideline appear simultaneously in the cardiology literature “hinders getting the message to the cardiology community,” he said, a sentiment echoed by other cardio-oncologists.

“I served as the ACC representative on the guideline, and the lack of ACC endorsement was the unfortunate consequence of approval and publication timing that coincided with restructuring of the ACC committees,” said Dr. Barac. “It absolutely does not reflect a lack of interest from the ACC.” As an example of the College’s commitment example, she cited an ACC 1.5-day educational course on cardiovascular care of oncology patients held for the first time in February 2017 and scheduled for a second edition next February.

Publication of the guideline in a cardiology journal “would indeed help dissemination among U.S. cardiologists,” agreed Pamela S. Douglas, MD, professor of medicine at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and another of the several cardiologists who served on the ASCO guideline’s panel.

Dr. Pamela Douglas

“It will be important to publish more cardio-oncology articles, recommendations, and guidelines in the major cardiology journals in order to further increase awareness and attention,” said Dr. Fradley.

Further advancing awareness of patients with cardio-oncology issues, what Dr. Moslehi has called “an emerging epidemic,” seems the most fundamental of the goals currently advanced by many active in this field.

One step to grow the subspecialty that he and his associates at Vanderbilt have taken is to start this year a formally recognized fellowship program in cardio-oncology; an initial class of three cardiologists started in the program this summer. The Vanderbilt group also plans to launch a website before the end of 2017 that will include an oncology-drug database that compiles all available information on each agent’s cardiovascular effects. The planned website will aggregate links to all existing cardio-oncology programs.

“We will absolutely see the field grow,” said Dr. Swain. “It has only sprung up in the past 10 or so years. It is now getting recognition, people are being trained in cardio-oncology, and it will grow as a subspecialty. It’s very exciting, and it’s better for patients.”

“A cardiologist with no cancer patients or survivors in their practice is unheard of; many cardiologists just don’t realize that,” Dr. Lenihan said. At least 10%-15% of the U.S. population in their 60s or older has a cancer history, he noted. The common mindset among cardiologists has been that cancer patients and survivors are not among their patients.

“It’s unlikely that a busy cardiology practice has no cancer survivors or active cancer patients,” Dr. Douglas suggested. When this happens, a likely explanations is that the cardiologist simply failed to elicit a completely comprehensive history from the practice’s patient roster. And even a cardiology practice today that includes no cancer patients or survivors will likely see some turning up soon, she predicted, because so many are receiving cardiovascular-toxic therapies and then surviving longer than ever before.

“What oncologists and cardiologists want to do is to optimize oncologic outcomes but with an acceptable adverse event profile. The cardio-oncologist helps push that envelope. The goal is not to eliminate cardiac events at the expense of oncologic outcomes, but to shift the balance to fewer and less severe cardiac events without unduly compromising oncologic outcomes,” explained Dr. Ewer. Cardio-oncology grapples with one of the core challenges of medicine, how to balance the potential risks from treatment against its potential benefits, he observed.

Dr. Neilan has been a consultant to Ariad and Takeda. Dr. Lenihan has been a consultant to Janssen and Roche and has received research funding from Takeda. Dr. Moslehi has been a consultant to Acceleron, Ariad, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Incyte, Pfizer, Takeda/Millennium, Verastem and Vertex. Dr. Ewer, Dr. Fradley, and Dr. Barac had no relevant disclosures. Dr. Swain has been a consultant to Genentech and Roche. Dr. Douglas has been a consultant to CardioDx, Interleukin Genetics, and Omicia, and has an ownership interest in CardioDx.

On Twitter @mitchelzoler


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