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Cardiotoxicity of Chemotherapy Agents for Cancer

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No one wants to be cured of cancer just to die of a heart attack. Unfortunately, many of the chemotherapy agents used to treat cancer have damaging effects on the heart. Physicians must carefully balance the risks and benefits of these powerful drugs.

Dr. Manabu Minami of Kyoto University Hospital, Japan, provided a review of cardiovascular side effects of cancer drugs. “Over the past few decades, cancer treatment has dramatically evolved,” Minami wrote.

Advances in the number and effectiveness of chemotherapy agents offer better results in treating cancer. However, some of the newer molecular target drugs are comparable to the well-known anthracyclines in terms of cardiotoxicity.

Heart disease can develop at any time after chemotherapy, even decades later. Children treated for cancer have a 15.1-fold increased risk of congestive heart disease, a 10.4-fold greater risk of coronary artery disease, and a 9.3-fold greater risk of cerebrovascular events, such as stroke, compared to their siblings who did not have childhood cancer. The risk of cardiovascular disease for these long-term survivors is greater than their risk for a second cancer.

The overall risk of cancer increases with age, so most patients who receive chemotherapy are also at risk for cardiovascular disease. Women have higher rates than men of cardiac toxicity from the well-known anthracyclines. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, heart conditions prior to cancer therapy, radiation therapy to the chest, use of multiple cancer drugs, and cumulative dose.

Minami described the following cytotoxic drugs to have significant cardiac toxicity:

2.Taxanes (paclitaxel and docetaxel)
3.Flurorpyrimidine (5-FU)

For molecular target drugs, also called targeted chemotherapy, Minami reported cardiac toxicity issues for the following:


Dr. Aarif Y. Khakoo of The University of Texas M. D.

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