Some cancer drugs may cause heart failure

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Research shows some drugs used to treat childhood cancer could cause heart failure.

There are few things that terrify a parent more than the thought of a child falling ill with cancer. Worse yet, for some kids the very drugs used to treat their cancer are as dangerous as the disease itself.

New research shows certain powerful drugs may cause heart problems later in life.

A study by University of Buffalo professor Dr. Javier Blanco found anthracyclines like Adriamycin and Danuomycin sometimes cause cardiomyopthy–weakening of the heart muscle. Perhaps needless to say this is often fatal.

The study, which began 7 years ago, compared DNA from 170 childhood cancer survivors with cardiomyopathy to 317 without any heart problems.

Blanco and his team found a minor genetic variation, “doubling” of an enzyme that breaks anthracyclines down into toxic chemicals, was present in many of the cancer survivors suffering from cardiomyopthay.

Anthracyclines are also used to treat certain types of cancer in adults, including breast cancer. According to Blanco, dosage should be monitored carefully to help limit the chance of negative side effects. But despite the potential health risks the doctor recommended the drugs remain in use. He concluded:

If we stop using anthracyclines we will not be able to cure up to 90% of the children who suffer from acute [leukemia]. Parents must continue to have their children’s health monitored long after the cancer is cured to identify cardiac problems if they develop.

Heart problems can emerge anywhere from 1-15 years after a patient is treated with anthracyclines.