When a cancer patient receives treatment, one of the last things on their mind is how cancer therapies may affect their long-term heart health. That is why University Cardiovascular Center physician and UCSF Fresno Department of Cardiology faculty member Siri Kunchakarra, MD, has started a cardio oncology program.
As an emerging multidisciplinary field of medicine, cardio-oncology is designed to care for the heart before, during, and after cancer therapy to prevent heart damage and decrease the risk of developing heart disease later in life.
While not historically available to patients in the Central Valley, cardio-oncology programs have existed for many years in other areas in California and the nation. These programs have successfully treated patients who have had or are currently in cancer therapy and have heart disease, or are at high risk of developing heart disease. There has been success in treating patients who have an increased risk of heart disease due to the type of treatment they receive, such as childhood cancer survivors. According to the American Heart Association Journal, childhood cancer survivors are three times more likely to have a cardiac event than their peers who never had cancer.
“Heart disease and cancer are prevalent in the Central Valley. Working together for patients is huge, and there is no other program like this in the Valley where patients can get streamlined, multidisciplinary care. It’s a very valuable and unique service that is being offered here,” Dr. Kunchakarra said. This cardio-oncology program will be the first in the Central Valley.
“My interest in cardio-oncology comes from my prior research experience looking at detecting early cardiac toxicity using strain echocardiography in patients with breast cancer undergoing cardiotoxic therapies,” Dr. Kunchakarra said.
With her experience in advanced cardiac imaging, Dr. Kunchakarra has the ability to evaluate abnormalities early on during cancer therapies to ultimately minimize any damage to the heart from chemotherapy. Cardio-oncology is an evolving division of cardiology, and the concept is new to most cardiac clinics.
Dr. Kunchakarra will serve as Director of Cardio-Oncology, and the program will be available at the University Cardiovascular Center. “She has played a vital role in bringing this program here as she is specially fellowship trained in advanced cardiovascular imaging, including cardiac CT/MRI and strain imaging. These are the foundation of identifying early toxicity and allowing for safer oncology cardiac monitoring,” said Dr. Teresa Daniele, UCSF Fresno’s Chief of Cardiology.