Cardio-Oncology: Cancer Treatment and Heart Disease

If you have cancer, it's important to learn how your treatment can affect your heart.

What is cardio-oncology? Cardio-oncology is a new term to describe the efforts to prevent or treat patients with cancer who face heart problems caused by cancer treatments. Although many cancer patients also have health conditions related to lung disease, infections or kidney disease, the rise of cardiac diseases in these patients has led to the growth of this new field. Cardio-oncology involves cancer doctors (oncologists), cardiologists and researchers.

Thanks to advances in treatment, the number of cancer survivors has never been greater and is expected to reach more than 20 million in the U.S. by 2026.

New therapies are helping patients live longer, but that means they also need ongoing cancer treatments that may damage their hearts. Many of these survivors are at risk for heart disease and now will live long enough after their cancer treatments to develop heart disease. In addition, some cancer medications may damage the heart.

New approaches to prevent or manage these side effects are needed, such as:

  • Team-based care from cardiologists and oncologists.
  • Improved methods developed by radiation oncologists to reduce the cardiac side effects of radiation therapy.

Drugs to treat cancer are being developed and released at faster rates. Some may damage the heart in new or unexpected ways. Whether due to research limitations or a process to fast-track drugs for life-threatening conditions, it is hard to detect all possible cardiac side effects before the drugs are released. Oncologists and cardiologists familiar with these real-world issues are the ones best suited to find these problems and protect patients.  

Cardiologists and other specialists in imaging of the heart and blood vessels are developing techniques to catch damage to the heart from cancer treatments earlier.

For now, there is no certification of health professionals who have special skill in managing these cardio-oncology problems, but efforts are underway to create a certified training program for the field.

How to Use This Resource

Oncology is a vast field. Listing every type of cancer and treatment with reported heart problems is beyond the scope of this resource. A working group of cardiologists, oncologists, patient advocates from the Eastern Cooperative Group-American College of Radiology Imaging Network and the American College of Cardiology has created this resource to provide information to help you or a loved one with cancer. Use it to learn about the following:

  1. Common types of cancer treatments that cause heart problems.
  2. Types of cancer with treatments that often damage the heart and blood vessels.
  3. Lifestyle tips about healthy living related to diet and personal activity for cancer patients.
  4. Questions to ask your doctor at your next visit.

You’ll also find information about your care team, where to get support, articles about understanding research, and general information about what engaged patients working with their care team can do to get the best possible results.


Published: November 2017
Author: Charles Porter, MD
Medical Reviewers: Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE; Lavanya Kondapalli, MD; Debra Madden, BA; Karen Lisa Smith, MD, MPH

These modules were developed in collaboration with the Eastern Cooperative Group—American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ECOG-ACRIN) Cardiotoxicity Working Group and Patient Advocacy Group.

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