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Semin Oncol. 2006 Jun;33(3 Suppl 8):S2-7.

Pathogenesis of cardiotoxicity induced by anthracyclines.

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  • 1The Heart Hospital, University College London Hospitals, London, UK.


Anthracyclines are potent anti-neoplastic drugs used in the treatment of solid and hematologic cancers. However, their use is limited by cumulative dose-related cardiotoxic adverse effects, which are progressive and irreversible from the first dose. Clinical trial data have shown that anthracycline cardiotoxicity is associated with slowly progressive deterioration of cardiac function, which continues for years after treatment cessation. Cardiac damage has been shown at cumulative doses as low as 200 mg/m2, well below levels currently assumed to induce injury. The widespread use of anthracyclines in childhood leukemia has resulted in an improved long-term prognosis; however, these patients are subsequently at high risk of developing long-term cardiac damage, with studies suggesting as many as 65% of survivors of childhood leukemia will develop cardiac abnormalities. Middle aged and elderly patients who are prone to cardiac disease may be more vulnerable to the cardiotoxic effects of anthracyclines. Therapies or strategies to prevent anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity are essential; ideally, these should be initiated at the beginning of anthracycline therapy to reduce the possibility of cardiac damage and to ensure the optimal use of chemotherapy.

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