ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The majority of patients diagnosed with sarcoma will be cured of their disease and live cancer-free. But as they age, these patients – who are diagnosed as children, teens or young adults – are at great risk of developing a severe or life-threatening chronic medical condition related to their sarcoma treatment.
A new clinic opening this week at the University of Michigan Health System aims to help adults who were treated for sarcoma, a cancer of the bone and connective tissue.
The first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary clinic pairs a medical oncologist who specializes in treating sarcoma patients with a cardiologist who specializes in heart problems that can result from cancer treatment. Patients will have a comprehensive exam by both doctors. In addition, the multidisciplinary clinic includes specialists in kidney disease, endocrinology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychiatry to help manage the conditions most often seen in sarcoma survivors.
“Patients who are cured of sarcoma as teens should be able to live into their 80s. But we see many of these patients develop heart disease, renal disease or other late effects in their 30s or 40s. These are often treatable issues. We have a tremendous potential with this clinic to impact long-term survival for these patients,” says Laurence Baker, D.O., professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. Baker, who has been treating sarcoma patients for more than 40 years, will see patients in the new clinic.
Because these issues are more typically seen in older adults, they often go undetected or misdiagnosed in sarcoma survivors, delaying treatment. Heart disease in a 30-year-old is rare; heart disease in a 30-year-old sarcoma survivor is not. In fact, heart disease is the main issue facing sarcoma survivors – nearly a third will develop a cardiac issue after treatment. Other potential conditions include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Lipid disorders
- Kidney failure
- Anxiety, depression and other mental health problems
- Sarcoma recurrence
- New cancers
These illnesses can occur as early as two years after completing sarcoma treatment.
“Many of these issues can be treated effectively with early interventions using common, established techniques. What’s different is that this particular population will face these issues at a younger age than you’d typically see. Because of that, our emphasis will be on early detection,” says Monika Leja, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology and the cardio-oncologist who will be working side-by-side with Baker in the clinic. Leja specializes in preventing or minimizing heart damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
In addition to clinical care, the team will test interventions designed to improve survival and quality of life in sarcoma survivors.
The new adult sarcoma survivorship clinic is open to bone sarcoma and soft tissue sarcoma survivors 18 and older who have been off all therapy for at least two years. Patients are eligible even if they received their sarcoma treatment outside of the University of Michigan.
The sarcoma survivorship clinic is a joint collaboration between the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Frankel Cardiovascular Center’s cardio-oncology program. To make an appointment at the new sarcoma survivorship clinic, call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 800-865-1125.