As an employee of the Parking Authority for the City of Elizabeth, N.J., Keith C. likes to joke that he’s the guy nobody wants to see coming. “I write parking tickets, so I’m the bad boy,” he says with a chuckle.
Not a lot keeps Keith from doing his job. But three years ago, he got a wakeup call when a colonoscopy found some polyps. They weren’t cancerous, but Keith’s primary care physician encouraged him to get tested regularly.
At Keith’s most recent colonoscopy, in March 2022, he learned that he had colon cancer. His cancer physician, board-certified hematologist-oncologist Joshua Strauss, MD, with Atlantic Medical Group, recommended Keith undergo chemotherapy to shrink the cancerous polyps.
Keith’s first infusion appointment was on a Wednesday in early April. He was scheduled to have his infusion pump removed on Friday. But Keith soon realized something wasn’t right. “It felt like I was having an allergic reaction,” he says. “I had chest pains. I had never had heart problems before, so I was really surprised.”
Keith went to the Overlook Medical Center Emergency Department (ED). There, he received testing and care from board-certified cardiologist Sidney Glasofer, MD, head of Atlantic Health System’s Cardio-Oncology Clinic.
“I had never heard of a cardio-oncologist before I met Dr. Glasofer,” Keith says.
Solving Keith’s chest pain
As a cardio-oncologist, Dr. Glasofer is skilled at helping patients who suffer from heart-related side-effects due to cancer treatment. “I also see people who are undergoing treatment for more advanced-stage cancers and have underlying heart conditions,” Dr. Glasofer says.
In Keith’s case, the guidance of a cardio-oncologist helped him find the true cause of his chest pain.
An EKG in the ED ruled out a heart attack, and a coronary CT angiogram (CTA) showed that he had no significant coronary artery disease. And while Keith had a few risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and blood pressure, they weren’t causing his chest pain, either.
The actual cause, Dr. Glasofer found, was a reaction to the particular chemotherapy medications he was given.
“Keith’s chest pain was from vasospasm—a narrowing of his coronary arteries that can be a rare side-effect of certain chemotherapies used for colon cancer,” Dr. Glasofer says. “It can cause severe angina (chest pain), like it did for Keith. Vasospasm can also cause heart attacks or fatal arrhythmias in the most severe instances.”
Thankfully, Keith’s vasospasm did not cause a heart attack nor a serious arrhythmia. But it did cause his chest pain. To correct that, Dr. Glasofer first prescribed medications to help prevent any further coronary vasospasm. Then, he and Dr. Strauss collaborated and found a different chemotherapy regimen that could treat Keith’s colon cancer without causing him to experience chest pain.
Creating an ideal outcome
After two nights at Overlook Medical Center, Keith returned to his Cranford home. He started his new chemotherapy regimen—with once-weekly infusion treatments—the following week, and he’s had no chest pain since.
Keith will continue his chemotherapy regimen through November. And while he’s contemplating retirement in the next couple of years, he’s still working the parking ticket beat in Elizabeth. In his spare time, he’s watching sports—including his favorite baseball team, the first-place Mets.
“Everything is going fine again,” Keith says. “My wife and I are very happy Dr. Glasofer could diagnose me; he’s very nice and helpful.”