A BEACON of Hope for Cardiac Health 

BEACON study contributors. L-R: Dr. Elsie Nguyen, Director, Cardiac CT and MRI Program, Women’s College Hospital (WCH); Teresa Bianco, Research Coordinator, Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI), WCH; Dr. Paula Harvey, Head, Department of Medicine, WCH

An innovative look at how combining key routine screenings can increase heart disease prevention for women 

If you ask Canadian women what they are most afraid of, most of them will say breast cancer.   

As a result, most women above the age of 50 will choose to undergo breast cancer screening through regular mammograms. However, the reality is, women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer with little opportunity or awareness on how to proactively screen for cardiovascular disease.  

Dr. Elsie Nguyen, Dr. Paula Harvey, Researcher Coordinator Teresa Bianco and their team at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) are working to change that through innovative new methods of early detection and prevention in order to decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.   

“Calcium deposits in breast arteries are associated with higher heart disease risk in women,” says Dr. Nguyen, Principal Investigator on the study and Director of the Cardiac CT and MRI Program at WCH. “Identifying the impact of the relationship between calcium deposits in breast arteries and calcium deposits in the heart could play a crucial role in disease prevention.”  

This is the goal of the Joint Breast Cancer & Cardiovascular Screening in Women (BEACON) Research Study taking place at WCH, which aims to combine screenings for heart disease with mammography screening. While heart disease in women remains vastly under-researched, the hope is that through creating a joint breast cancer and cardiovascular screening program, women and their healthcare providers will be better equipped to understand and integrate preventative health care to improve health outcomes for women.   

The BEACON study is just one of the many ways that WCH sees things differently. “We are constantly adapting in order to increase awareness and improve the lives of our patients,” says Dr. Harvey, Head of the Department of Medicine at WCH and one of the lead investigators on the study.  

“Five, ten years down the line, we hope that when women receive their annual mammogram reminders from the Ontario government, they’re also receiving a reminder to get screened for cardiac disease,” says Dr. Harvey. “That would be really incredible.” 

You may be eligible to participate in the BEACON Study and learn more about your heart disease risk. 

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