By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —This Sunday, Mother’s Day, is the Susan G. Komen Race for The Cure, to raise money and awareness about breast cancer. For some battling the disease, a lifesaving treatment can actually come at a cost.
There are a variety of treatments for breast cancer, including radiation and chemotherapy. Doctors say the side effects can be debilitating, and many patients may not even be aware of the potentially damaging effects on the heart.
Cathy Lista never imagined she would be visiting a cardiologist at 55-years-old. She was healthy, until she got a shocking diagnosis of stage two breast cancer last year. She had surgery and chemotherapy.
“I was having swelling of the leg. And I was having shortness of breath. It took an exorbitant amount of time for me to do anything,” said Cathy.
Doctors discovered her heart was failing. She was forced to stop the chemo.
Experts say some chemotherapy drugs can actually cause heart disease in up to 20 percent of those being treated for breast cancer.
“Women who are younger have a bigger problem with this. Women who have had therapy before can have a problem with this. And then women who have more aggressive agents,” said Dr. Maritza Cotto, a cardiologist at Cooper University Hospital. She says the cancer drugs Adriamycin, Herceptin and Avastin are the biggest culprits.
“These agents actually lower the ability of our heart to act appropriately and cause the heart muscle to fail,” said Dr. Cotto.
Heart imaging is standard for women going through treatment to make sure everything is okay with the heart, but Dr. Cotto warns patients to pay attention to their body.
“You need to recognize your symptoms. You know your body the best. You need to know that you’re not feeling well. That you’re starting to put on a lot of weight that’s unexplained,” said Dr. Cotto.
Thanks to heart medication, Cathy’s heart is back to normal.
“I feel wonderful. I really feel great. I’m back to doing some normal activities,” said Cathy.
Not all women are as fortunate. Sometimes, the damage to the heart from breast cancer treatments is not reversible.
For more on Cooper University Hospital’s Women’s Heart Program, click here.