The Comprehensive Cancer Center at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is one of three research groups to receive funds from a $3.1 million federal grant aimed at a potential link between cancer and heart vessel damage.
The grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will cover five years.
The other research groups are Duke Cancer Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center.
The institute is conducting a first-of-its-kind prospective study to look for the earliest signs of heart vessel damage in young, pre-menopausal breast cancer survivors.
According to a news release, the rates of women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer have increased during the 21st century. Survival rates for women with this type of breast cancer have improved when the treatment involves estrogen depletion to stop cancer cells from growing.
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According to the institute, estrogen keeps blood vessels healthy and protects women from heart disease.
However, the long-term effect of estrogen depletion in young breast cancer survivors puts them at increased risk of heart disease, including heart failure and heart attacks.
“Our patients with hormone-receptor breast cancer are living longer due to aggressive treatment that includes turning off estrogen production that induces early menopause,” said Dr. Alexandra Thomas, a professor of hematology and oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the study’s co-principal investigator.
“These patients have decades of life ahead of them, and we hope that by identifying early changes in coronary arteries, we may find ways to lower their risk of irreversible heart disease.”
The study is called “Cardiac Outcomes With Near Complete Estrogen Deprivation.”
It will involve 90 women, age 55 and under, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sixty-five participants will receive standard estrogen-depletion therapy, while 25 participants with hormone receptor negative breast cancer will serve as a control group for the study.
The study will be conducted at all three centers, and the researchers also hope to recruit a diverse group of women, especially Black women, who have higher rates of both breast cancer and heart disease.
All participants will receive imaging tests at different intervals to look for small changes in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart.
Those include a cardiac MRI stress test at the beginning of the study, and at one-year and two-year intervals.
They also will receive CT imaging of their cardiac arteries at baseline and after two years, along with blood tests to look for biomarkers that correlate with the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The participants will be followed for five years.