NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — February is “American Heart Month,” and this week CBS2 is bringing you stories to promote awareness of heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country.

Some people may not be aware of the link between heart disease and cancer treatment. As Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday, sometimes life-saving treatments can also damage the heart.

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To be clear, no one is saying pass up your cancer treatment. It’s about awareness. Now that better treatments have allowed cancer patients to live 10, 20 even 40 and 50 years after their diagnosis, we need to be aware of the long-term consequences these therapies can have.

“You know, it’s an up-and-down journey. Some days are better than others,” patient Linda Basset said.

Basset has metastatic breast cancer. She’s actually been battling some form of the disease for 13 years.

“It’s not curable, so my life will be managed with drugs as long as we can do that,” Basset said.

(Photo: CBS2)

And in an almost cruel medical twist, Linda has also been diagnosed with an early stage of cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart that doctors attribute to the chemo treatments she’s been undergoing.

Dr. Nidhi Kumar is a cardiologist at St. Peter’s University Hospital, and now a vital member of Linda’s medical team. She said the connection of heart disease to cancer treatments needs more attention from the medical community.

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“There are studies that quote a 20-to-30% development of cardiomyopathy after exposure to some very common chemotherapy-type drugs and that well exceeds the risk of tumor recurrence in many types of cancers. So you beat your cancer but then five years down the line you have congestive heart failure,” Kumar said.

Kumar recommends a sophisticated type of echocardiogram called strain rate imaging for cancer patients as an essential tool for early diagnosis.

“By using this new standard, which is super sensitive, we’re able to pick up changes in the heart months before we pick it up with regular images,” Kumar said.

Lisa Carrigan is a cardiac sonographer.

“Visually, you can see that this is a normal heart. It’s not until we dive deeper into doing the strain that it picks it up on a cellular level. There is a change in the way the heart is squeezing and pumping. This is going to tell you the numbers,” Carrigan said.

Basset’s heart condition was caught early and is being managed with drugs, along with some physical and emotional therapeutic exercise.

“The goal is never to stop the treatment of the cancer. On the contrary, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to keep patients as healthy as possible so they can continue their treatment and so they can beat their cancer,” Kumar said.

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It’s not the type of cancer; it’s the drugs and sometimes radiation, as well, that are used to treat the cancer, for women and men, too. The key is being aware of those side effects, especially if the patient may be at risk for heart problems, so that doctors can try a different drug, a different dose or even giving the drug differently.