Locations:
Search IconSearch

4 Heart Tests You May Need Before Cancer Treatment

Pre-treatment heart function tests can help you later

man undergoing stress test for heart

Radiation and chemotherapy fight cancer and save lives. But some patients develop heart problems during treatment and even years or decades later as a side effect of the life-saving treatment.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Because of this, it is important for you to have cardiac screening tests before and sometimes during or after treatment,” says oncologist G. Thomas Budd, MD. “That way, your doctor may be able to prevent potential problems from occurring.”

Tests your doctor may use

Doctors use several different types of tests to determine heart function before and after radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The tests include:

  • MUGA scan. The multigated acquisition scan uses a small amount of radioactive tracer injected into a vein and a special camera to create images of the beating heart.
  • Echocardiogram with strain testing. This is an ultrasound test that creates images of the moving heart and provides detailed information about the structures of the heart and how the heart muscle is functioning.
  • Stress testing for exercise tolerance. In this type of test, you exercise on a treadmill while doctors monitor your vital signs such as heartbeat and blood pressure. When combined with echocardiogram, they obtain images of the beating heart before and immediately after exercise.
  • Cardiac MRI. This is reserved for complicated cases or specific issues. A magnetic resonance imaging test creates a detailed 3-D map or image of the heart.

More about echo testing

Although the MUGA scan is a reliable test for measuring LV (left ventricular) function, an echocardiogram gives a more comprehensive look at both cardiac function and the function of the heart valves. When coupled with measurements of cardiac strain, it becomes more sensitive for detecting subtle changes in cardiac function.

Echocardiography provides your doctor with a comprehensive evaluation of the heart’s function and structure, including the chambers and valves.

Strain imaging combined with echocardiography further evaluates the function of the heart muscle using cardiac ultrasound. This method is particularly useful in identifying subtle changes in heart function. Strain imaging is better because it can detect changes in your heart’s performance even before they show up as clinical symptoms.

Strain imaging provides two important sets of data: Left ventricular ejection fraction (EF) and LV strain (stress).

Abnormal LV strain will prompt us to recommend follow-up testing with echocardiograms to monitor for further changes in cardiac function. We may also recommend treatment with cardioprotective medications.

Treating heart issues

Medicines can help ease the burden on your heart if any impact occurs from cancer treatment. And they can help prevent the need for surgical intervention down the line.

Advertisement

After comparing initial and subsequent test results.

“If we find dramatic changes in LV strain, we can initiate treatment with beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and possibly statins to prevent further damage,” he says. “We also will follow up with continued testing of these patients to make sure that heart function remains stable.”

What to do if you are scheduled for cancer treatment

Talk with your doctor about your cancer treatment and discuss testing for heart function. This testing will establish your “baseline” heart function. There is no “normal” and no two people share the same heart function. That makes it important to know what your pre-treatment function is. That way doctors can test afterward and compare the results.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

woman with metastatic breast cancer at office desk
Working While Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Working has its benefits, but it may require some modifications — and that’s OK

two people standing at standing work desks
January 25, 2024/Cancer Care & Prevention
Can Sitting Too Much Increase Your Cancer Risk?

Studies show the high health cost of spending hours in a chair

person scratching at their itchy skin on their chest
January 2, 2024/Cancer Care & Prevention
Is Itchy Skin a Sign of Cancer?

Anything from minor irritations and chronic diseases to, yes, cancer can cause persistent itching

Parents have a serious talk with child in living room on couch.
November 7, 2023/Cancer Care & Prevention
How To Tell Your Child That You Have Cancer

It’s important to share the news in an honest and age-appropriate way 

woman dyeing her hair
October 24, 2023/Cancer Care & Prevention
Can Hair Dye Increase Cancer Risk?

Research shows some associations and concerns, but no definitive connections

person applying deodorant
October 19, 2023/Cancer Care & Prevention
Can Deodorant Cause Cancer?

Research doesn’t show a link between the personal hygiene product and breast cancer

Person buying vegetables from a farmer's market.
October 12, 2023/Nutrition
What Is Food Insecurity? And Tips for Healthier Living in a Food Desert

When nutritious foods are hard to come by, your health can suffer

Two people hold hands in a comforting way across a wooden table.
August 14, 2023/Cancer Care & Prevention
9 Best Ways To Support Someone Who’s Going Through Cancer Treatment

Practice meditation together, make a unique-to-them care package and embrace emotions

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad