Heart Disease in Cancer Patients: Willie’s Story
In 2015, then 69-year-old Willie M. Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer. A simple lumpectomy removed her tumor and a five-year dose of the oral medication, Anastrozole, was prescribed. The retired licensed practical nurse was in familiar territory. She spent 45 years working at the Hospital Center and much of that time at the Washington Cancer Institute.
Then last year, Ms. Smith’s oncologist, Christopher Gallagher, MD, told her he heard a heart murmur during a routine check-up and ordered an echocardiogram. What the test indicated prompted a referral to Ian Chang, MD, a MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute cardio-oncologist specializing in heart disease in cancer patients.
“It showed that the valve in my heart wasn’t opening and closing correctly,” Ms. Smith says. “It was a shock and very surprising. I did have leg swelling and felt out of breath just walking from the parking garage to the hospital, though.”
Treatment was fairly simple: compression stockings and medication to reduce the swelling.
But the valve deformity suggested that she might have some type of systemic disease, prompting a chest CT and an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis. The tests led to a rare diagnosis: carcinoid tumors.
“It’s a slow growing cancer that was probably there for the last 15 years,” Ms. Smith explains. “And if I hadn’t seen Dr. Gallagher and Dr. Chang, it would not have been diagnosed because I had no symptoms.”
Now under treatment with the Cancer Institute’s David Perry, MD, Ms. Smith marvels at this turn of events. “I have got to call it divine intervention!”