Study aims to pinpoint future heart risks in cancer survivors

Published: Dec. 18, 2019 at 5:57 PM CST
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Severe abdominal pain led to a diagnosis of advanced colon cancer for Brent Trueblood.

"It wasn't good there in the beginning," he recalls. "I had three weeks to live."

Months later, doctors delivered different news.

"Pardon me if I get a little emotional, because (the doctor) told me I have a long life ahead," he said.

More people, like Brent, are surviving cancer, but the same treatments that save their lives also put them at risk for heart disease.

That's why Brent is paying forward his second chance by signing on to a research study with Cotton O'Neil Cancer Center and Kansas State University's Clinical Integrated Physiology Lab.

"The big question is can we predict what may happen in the future?" said Dr. Carl Ade, Ph.D., an assistant professor at K-State and principal investigator on the study.

With up to half of cancer survivors developing some degree of heart trouble within 20 years of treatment, Ade and Ph.D. student Steve Hammond, his project manager, are trying to shed light on who's at risk and why. Their approach is to see how a certain type of chemotherapy - called 5-Flurouracil - affects the small vessels in the skin.

"That tells us a lot of really good information, in a quick and simple and easy way that we can then translate to the other parts of the body, specifically the small vessels in your heart," Ade said.

Their study uses ultrasound and Doppler technology to measure how the small vessels react in a patient right after chemo, versus how the reactions in a healthy counterpart.

"If we can see what's going on in the small vessels, that gives us an early indication or an early window at what might happen in the future," Ade said.

Knowing which treatments may increase risk in which patients can guide treatment decisions.

"We can plan how to develop even more, safer options for the future, or how to minimize those toxicities in those patients, and even if patients develop toxicities, how can we manage that so they still keep their quality of life and live as long as possible," said Dr. Mehmood Hashmi, an oncologist at Cotton O'Neil Cancer Center.

Ade says their study is just a start. It only looks at one type of chemo, and lifestyles and backgrounds also play a role.

But Brent says any step forward is good.

"This cancer is an ugly thing. It doesn't pick or choose who it wants, it just randomly takes," he said. "If I can help get an early detection on other people, I'm all for that."

The study continues to enroll patients undergoing 5-FU chemotherapy, as well as healthy adults to volunteers for a matched control group. It involved a one-time commitment of 60 to 90 minutes. Those interested may contact Sonjia Clay, RN, at 785-270-4939, or email