The search is on for more drugs that will specifically target cancer cells rather than walloping the entire body. For now, however, most cancer patients are still treated with chemotherapy, which can have long lasting effects. Researchers are studying cancer survivors to see what problems they may face later on as a result of their life-saving but toxic chemotherapy regimes. A group at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center wanted to know which anticancer drugs cause heart damage and how that damage might be prevented.
What the researchers wanted to know: Which common chemotherapy agents produce cardiac problems?
What they did: The scientists reviewed 29 anticancer drugs for cardiac toxicity, both by scouring the existing literature on the subject and reviewing their own clinical experience at M.D. Anderson.
What they found: It's the original good news/bad news story. The good: These agents may help get rid of cancer. The bad: Every class of cancer drug has the potential to damage the heart. Among the most dangerous are drugs in a class called anthracyclines/anthraquinolones, which can produce irreversible heart failure and left ventricular dysfunction. But even so-called targeted therapies, like Rituxin and Avastin, have the potential to produce less serious, but still problematic, high or low blood pressure. Radiation therapy, too, can damage the heart.
What it means to you: This does not mean anyone should refuse cancer treatment out of fear of developing heart trouble! Nevertheless, as more and more cancer patients survive to live long lives, they will need to be vigilant about the aftereffects of treatment. Knowing more about the potential toxic effects means physicians can be on the lookout for problems and adjust doses or prescribe other ameliorating drugs accordingly. Doctors may also prescribe common treatments for left ventricular dysfunction, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. Basically, forewarned is forearmed.
Caveats: It's worth pointing out that this review consisted of previously existing researchno new studies were performed to reach its conclusions. Nevertheless, the idea that cancer drugs harm the heart is widely accepted, and the basic conclusions are not in question.
Find out more: Look at www.livestrong.org for survivor resources, including information on common side effects of cancer treatment.
Read the article: Yeh, E.T. et al. "Cardiovascular Complications of Cancer Therapy." Circulation. June 29, 2004, Vol. 109, No. 25, pp. 312231.
Abstract online: http://circ.ahajournals.org