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LVHN Cardio-Oncology Program Recognized as Global Center of Excellence

Gold Designation from International Cardio-Oncology Society applies to just 22 locations in the U.S.

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LVHN Cardio-Oncology Program Recognized as Global Center of Excellence
Hematologist oncologist Ranju Gupta, MD, and cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO, are co-directors.of the cardio-oncology program.

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute’s comprehensive cardiovascular program for cancer patients and survivors, now in its seventh year, has been recognized as a global center of excellence by the International Cardio-Oncology Society (IC-OS).

The cardio-oncology program was launched in 2015 by Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO, and Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute hematologist oncologist Ranju Gupta, MD. Both are cardio-oncology program co-directors.

The Heart and Vascular Institute’s program received a gold center of excellence rating from IC-OS, the highest level awarded by the society. Just 31 hospitals or health systems in the world have gold ratings, including 22 in the U.S. Lehigh Valley Health Network is one of only two IC-OS centers of excellence in Pennsylvania.

“People in the region don’t have to travel to New York or Philadelphia for leading-edge care. Cancer patients are going through a lot and traveling long distances for treatment adds to their burden. It’s great we can offer world-class care right here.” - Cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO

Certain cancer treatments can cause cardiotoxicity, a condition that can weaken heart muscle, raise blood pressure, or cause the heart to beat out of sync, a condition known as arrhythmia. Heart specialists in the cardio-oncology program assess a patient’s heart disease risk and work with the patient’s oncologist to develop a personalized treatment plan. The goal is to minimize or prevent heart-related problems due to cancer treatments.

“This program provides a tremendous benefit to the community. We have such great expertise right here in the Lehigh Valley,” Sundlof said. “People in the region don’t have to travel to New York or Philadelphia for leading-edge care. Cancer patients are going through a lot and traveling long distances for treatment adds to their burden. It’s great we can offer world-class care right here.”

Since its inception, the Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute’s cardio-oncology program has served more than 650 patients and has become a major initiative, according to Sundlof, who also serves as a co-director of the Heart and Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Program.

To make it easier to get cardiology help to moderate- or high-risk cancer patients, the program developed a risk assessment tool for the health network’s oncology team. The tool is continually updated to reflect the fast-changing world of cancer treatment. “Cancer care is changing rapidly, almost daily,” Sundlof said.

“There are a lot of things we can do as cardiologists to decrease a patient’s risk for developing a heart problem from cancer treatment. Likewise, we also work closely with cancer patients with existing heart health issues.”

Gupta said cardio-oncology is a relatively new field that is gaining increasing recognition among cardiologists and oncologists as well as the public.

“Part of our objective is to increase the level of understanding about the potential for cardiotoxicity due to certain cancer medications and treatments,” Gupta said. “There is a lack of understanding out there. Most patients likely have no idea there could be any connection between the heart and oncology drugs.”

Sundlof and Gupta point out that cancer and heart disease share risk factors, including smoking, obesity, poor nutrition and diabetes. Gupta said a cardio-oncology program can serve as a preventive measure to help both cancer patients and cancer survivors.

The cardio-oncology collaboration between Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute and Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute is enhanced by the Cancer Institute’s participation in the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance. The Cancer Institute is one of only three cancer centers in the country participating in the alliance.

IC-OS board certification so far has only been achieved by about 165 clinicians worldwide. Heart and Vascular Institute cardio-oncology team members Sundlof, Nadeem Ahmad, MD, with LVPG Cardiology–Muhlenberg and LVPG Cardiology–Bangor, and nurse practitioner Kelly Schadler, with LVPG Cardiology–Muhlenberg, are among them.

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