Cancer Therapy and the Heart: An Interview on Cardiooncology

Dr. Kahn’s unique practice, the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity, in Bingham Farms, Michigan, offers a groundbreaking integrative approach to heart health for our cancer patients.

Born with a heart murmur, Dr. Kahn visited pediatric cardiology frequently throughout his childhood. All of the lights and beeping noises piqued his interest. 

After spending 25 years in interventional cardiology, practicing from a conventional perspective, Dr. Kahn realized he was “chasing his tail.” There was a way to prevent patients from needing a stent in the first place and his proverbial heart was in keeping his patients out of the operating room.

A vegan from age 18, Dr. Kahn made the courageous decision to leave the safety, security, and prestige of interventional cardiology, to return to his roots and bring the robust and growing data on nutrition to his practice as a cardiologist.

Our mission at Associates of Integrative Medicine is to make sure that every person diagnosed with cancer sees a FABNO who can partner with oncology to prevent side effects from chemoradiation, increase tolerance and compliance, and help the patient return to optimal health in survivorship.

In order for AIM’s model to be effective, we need to collaborate with specialists in cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology who have chosen to become educated in oncologic management and who can help manage higher-level concerns using a therapeutic approach that moves from least invasive to most. 

Dr. Kahn points out that patients who have been exposed to chemotherapy and radiation can be at risk for cardiotoxicity. This means that it is of utmost importance to protect the heart muscle from damage and visit a cardiologist regularly for early detection of preventable issues. 

“Heart disease is a very common disease and it is mostly silent. Many people don’t know they have it, they may be older when they end up in cancer care, or they may have unknowingly had markers for some time. The focus is on caring for their cancer but just as importantly, and often missed, is the fact that they already have early-stage heart disease.

The good news is the earlier you can identify that there is a problem, the earlier you can approach both problems. We are going to be dealing with your cancer now, but we are going to emphasize natural approaches to heart disease in the long term as we don’t want to survive one and then face a crisis with the other.” -Joel Kahn, MD

Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality in cancer survivors. According to Dr. Kahn, cancer therapy can, over time, result in more rapid development of atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries. It is important to screen for this condition and offset the ways life-saving treatment may accelerate a silent health problem.

We want people to get through their treatment and be in remission or disease-free; and many, most in fact, survive. So then the conversation shifts. We have to talk about the rest of their life. Cancer and heart disease are neck-in-neck for the number one killer of men and women in the United States, and they very often occur in the same people and share a lot of the same causes: diet, smoking, fitness, stress, sleep, nutritional deficiencies.” -Joel Kahn, MD

Dr. Kahn works with the patients we have identified as having a heart risk on fine-tuning the lifestyle pieces including diet, stress management, quality sleep, and fitness that will optimize heart function, but he also manages their medical prescriptions and refers for appropriate testing to give him and our patients measurable results.

Dr. Roy states, “Just because we are looking at natural therapies, doesn’t mean we can ignore foundational testing, EKG, Echo, Stress test, and blood work. But Dr. Kahn digs deeper, he orders tests that can give us the age of your arteries, assess for the extent of atherosclerosis; and he does a more advanced analysis of lipids and other heart markers.” 

Dr. Kahn discussed how cardio-oncology is an emerging field in institutional and academic settings. These doctors are well versed in drug management and the impact on cardiac parameters, but their toolbox may be limited to drug management. Their primary role is to optimize the patient’s tolerance to chemotherapy and advise oncology as to the course of treatment that is the least impactful on the heart. They are not really focused on long-term care and “holistic” health, as in, how working on heart health through lifestyle changes can lower the risk of recurrence of cancer itself. 

Dr. Kahn is a lifelong educator and a lifelong student. He empowers patients to take control of their health by curating a dedicated reading and viewing list. Here is a taste:

Drs. Kahn and Roy made a commitment to their education in cardio-oncology, traveling together for continuing education in the cardiovascular care of cancer patients through the American College of Cardiology. At the present time, Dr. Kahn has elected for a fellowship in genetic medicine to further individualize how lifestyle changes may impact outcomes with heart health.

Dr. Roy and Dr. March are very special doctors and uniquely trained. They have hearts of gold but they also have brains of gold. What I hear from patients about the care they get at AIM is superb. It’s exciting to hear about that level of care delivery. They are my go-to for natural treatment of supporting cancer patients and other health issues and it is my honor to see their heart patients.” -Joel Kahn, MD

Dr. Joel Kahn

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