Spring 2018

Minimizing heart damage after cancer treatment

Suma Konety, M.D., M.S., leads the University of Minnesota Health Cardio-Oncology Clinic, which is increasingly focused on heart disease prevention, early intervention, and outreach.

You’ve undergone chemotherapy, endured radiation, and now you’re cancer-free. Unfortunately, your next challenge just might be cardiovascular disease, a side effect of many treatments. 

“Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death amongst cancer survivors,” says Suma Konety, M.D., M.S., a University of Minnesota Health cardio-oncologist and associate professor of medicine in the U’s Medical School. “Even if you’re asymptomatic, you could be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease after receiving certain cancer treatments.” 

In fact, Konety says a majority of patients exposed to chest radiation and chemotherapy may be at risk. So her work at the M Health Cardio-Oncology Clinic, which she leads, is increasingly focused on outreach, early intervention, and—most important—prevention. 

“Ultimately, we hope to be able to identify those patients at risk for developing cardiotoxicity from chemotherapy either by novel imaging techniques or genetic testing,” she says, “so we can intervene before it happens.” 

Konety and her team are now working to develop comprehensive prevention strategies, which could include adding heart-protective drugs to a patient’s medical regimen during chemotherapy. 

Her current research focuses on improving heart imaging capabilities, identifying genetic markers that might indicate a predisposition for heart disease, and using stem cells to treat chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy. 

“This is a nuanced field where the problem can go unrecognized,” Konety says, “so we want to bring awareness to the people who have received these treatments.”