Today’s cancer patients need not be tomorrow’s cardiovascular patients

Today’s cancer patient may be tomorrow’s cardiac patient, with almost a third of people who survive cancer developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).


Associate Professor Doan Ngo
Associate Professor Doan Ngo, lead researcher and recipient of a 2021 NHF Future Leader Fellowship

Funding from the National Heart Foundation (NHF) will enable researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Hunter New England Health (HNE) to investigate ways to improve the outlook for patients living with and beyond cancer.

Lead researcher and recipient of a 2021 NHF Future Leader Fellowship, Associate Professor Doan Ngo said she and her team were applying a new approach to the problem.

“We are one of the largest teams in Australia working in the emerging field of cardio-oncology, which focusses on the impact of cancer treatments on the heart,” Associate Professor Ngo said.

“Some of the drugs that are successful in treating cancers can cause adverse effects on the heart. We’ll be looking for existing drugs that are effective at preventing damage to the heart.”

CVD remains Australia’s single biggest killer, claiming more than 17,500 lives each year. This year the NHF identified cardio-oncology as one of its four strategic priorities for cardiovascular disease research. It is considered an important field of research where there are currently significant gaps.

Advances in anti-cancer treatments have led to a significant rise in cancer survival rates. Across all cancers, the five-year survival rate is now about 70 per cent, meaning the number of people susceptible to CVD has also risen.

About 30 per cent of cancer survivors will develop cardiovascular complications and there are more than 550,000 cancer survivors in Australia. An estimated one in 18 (two million) Australians will have survived cancer by 2040.

“Our ultimate aim of this research program is to improve short and longer-term cardiovascular wellbeing of patients living with and beyond cancer, a currently unmet need. We want to understand the causes of these cardiovascular complications so we can prevent CVD from developing.”

Collaborating on this research project with Associate Professor Ngo is her husband, Associate Professor Aaron Sverdlov, who is a Clinical Academic Cardiologist at John Hunter Hospital and clinical lead for the ‘Cancer and the Heart’ Program. He is also a Director of Heart Failure with the School of Medicine and Public Health and is a current NHF Future Leader Fellow.

The research team from the University of Newcastle, HMRI, Hunter New England Health and Calvary Mater Hospital has been recruiting patients for their study to commence this year.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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