Imaging of Heart Function, Insights into How Cancer Treatment Can Impact Cardiac Health

Walter O’Dell, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Dept. of Radiation Oncology

Abstract: Thanks in part to improved treatment, there are now over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the US. However, many of these treatments are known to injure the heart. If we can diagnose severe heart injury early on, then there are medications that we can give to improve patient survival. Even better, if we find that a patient has severe heart injury early during treatment, we can change treatment to better spare the heart. Unfortunately, the usual methods for measuring heart function cannot detect the small changes that we need to make a diagnosis. Fortunately, we have recently shown that small changes can be reliably measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and precise modeling of the heart geometry. Using this approach, we measured heart function in breast cancer patients who received radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment.  We found that the more radiation the heart receives, the larger the decrease in heart function. We then looked at another patient, who had a low starting level of function and had received a medium-high amount of radiation to the heart. Based on the first set of patients, we predicted that this patient would go into heart failure within 10 months. And, unfortunately, this patient did in fact have heart failure just 7 months after treatment. We are now investigating ways to further improve the sensitivity of 3D MRI of the heart to changes in heart function to better understand how cancer treatments influence the heart.

Dr. Walter O’Dell is a biomedical engineer with expertise in medical imaging. Within the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UF Health Cancer Center, he researches ways that radiation affects heart and lung tissue. His lab is also working on new ways to detect and track early-stage tumors non-invasively from 3D MRI and CT scans.

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