Radiologists often overlook cardiovascular warning signs during cancer imaging

Radiologists commonly overlook potentially important information about a patient’s heart health when they’re performing mammograms or CT scans before starting cancer treatment, according to research set to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s scientific sessions March 16-18 in New Orleans.

The work will be presented in two separate, preliminary studies at ACC.19. One of the studies found that among 1,001 cancer patients, 35 percent of the cohort had coronary artery calcium (CAC) detectable on CT. But the radiologists reported on this powerful predictor of cardiovascular risk only about half of the time.

“This is essentially free information because the patients are undergoing the CT scans anyway, and we’d like to see it reported more frequently,” Matthew Hooks, MD, a resident physician at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “It would be particularly helpful to know if a patient has evidence of early coronary artery disease before starting cancer treatment that can potentially harm the heart.”

Evidence of CAC could also lead to physicians prescribing cardioprotective medications such as statins or aspirin to reduce the risk of adverse events. In the study, only five patients were newly prescribed aspirin and three started statin therapy after the CT scans, despite 349 of them having CAC.

The other study found women with calcification in the breast arteries were 53 percent more likely to also have coronary artery disease than women without breast artery calcification. Because mammograms are offered more frequently than coronary angiograms, this suggests breast arterial calcification could be useful screening tool to identify women who warrant additional testing or early intervention, according to the release.