Heartening news for BMT survivors

October 4, 2012 | by City of Hope


Photo of Saro Armenian Saro Armenian (Photo by Walter Urie)


We hear about how bone marrow transplants save the lives of so many people with blood cancers. Yet nothing comes without a cost. Because of the effects of cancer treatment, up to a third of these survivors end up with a variety of problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a study done at City of Hope.

These are all factors that can lead to heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, right?

But hold on. Bone marrow transplant patients don’t necessarily have to develop these problems. It’s not a matter of fate. Doctors actually might be able to do something to head them off before they happen.

“The silver lining behind these findings is that these are modifiable risk factors,” said City of Hope pediatric hematologist and oncologist Saro Armenian, D.O., M.P.H., lead author of a study that explores the topic in the journal Blood.

Researchers looked at the medical records of nearly 1,900 patients -- from infants to seniors -- who survived for at least a year after their bone marrow transplant in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

They found that cardiovascular problems in these patients were triggered by treatments they received before transplant, like radiation, as well as by treatments after transplant to fight complications like graft-versus-host disease.

The findings should help doctors identify which patients should be closely monitored – and aggressively treated – to prevent complications from cardiovascular disease.

Across the world, health experts urge otherwise healthy people to cut the risk associated with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol by taking certain steps including exercising and taking preventive medications.

There’s reason to believe that the same kinds of steps can help bone marrow transplant survivors.

It’s interesting to see such a shift taking place in the consciousness of doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. We’re no longer just throwing a sort of medical bomb at cancer in hopes of killing it, and then dealing with the aftermath later. Physicians are increasingly looking at how to adjust cancer treatment and follow up appropriately to keep patients healthy in their years after cancer.

“We’re really thinking about long-term chronic issues that come up with cancer survivors, and how we can actually improve patients’ lifestyle,” Armenian says.

Thanks to strides in clinical trials and all aspects of care, transplant recipients are living longer, he says. “I’m happy to say we have the privilege now of looking at long-term survivors and their overall health.”

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