News Release

April 14, 2010

Contact: Chris DeFrancesco, 860-679-3914

Studying Heart Disease Risk in Breast Cancer Survivors

CT Breast Health Initiative Grant Funds Cardiology-Cancer-Radiology Collaboration

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Cardiologists, oncologists and radiologists at the University of Connecticut Health Center will work together to research the effects of chemotherapy on breast cancer survivors’ heart health.

The Connecticut Breast Health Initiative has awarded a $50,000 grant to Dr. Erick Avelar, director of noninvasive cardiac imaging in the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, to lead this effort.

"Some breast cancer patients who receive chemotherapy are susceptible to developing heart muscle disease called cardiomyopathy," Avelar says. "There are no current available imaging tests or biomarkers that can detect early cardiac changes associated with chemotherapy."

Prospective study participants are women who are to receive potentially heart-damaging chemotherapy.

"If we, the oncologists, determine they’re able to and will benefit from such chemotherapy, they will also be offered the study," says Dr. Susan Tannenbaum, medical director of the Clinical and Translational Breast Program at the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Both radiologists and cardiologists will interpret the advanced cardiac images. The researchers will study the effectiveness of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in early detection of heart injury. They also will investigate the potential of a biomarker, or early indicator, that they already are studying called serum caspases, which they say is an indicator of cell death. This research is unique to the lab of Dr. Bruce Liang, director of the Calhoun Cardiology Center.

"Early diagnosis via a blood test would be simple and may offer a chance to begin early treatment for cancer drug-related heart failure," Liang says.

"The thought is, between the biomarkers and our cardiac imaging capability, we can better determine the risk of early cardiac dysfunction and ultimately improve patient management strategies," Avelar says.

Connecticut Breast Health Initiative President Joyce Bray says the study will impact a large number of women with breast cancer who are treated with chemotherapy and face the risk of developing significant cardiac complications.

"Collaboration by the Departments of Oncology, Cardiology and Radiology made this grant very exciting to fund," Bray says.

Caption: Dr. Erick Avelar, director of noninvasive cardiac imaging at the UConn Health Center, is leading multidisciplinary research of how chemotherapy affects breast cancer survivors’ heart health.

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