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Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014 Mar 7;111(10):161-8. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2014.0161.

Cardiotoxicity and oncological treatments.

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Paracelsus Harz Clinic Bad Suderode, Quedlinburg: Prof. Dr. med. habil. Schlitt, MHA, Faculty of Medicine, Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Department IV of Internal Medicine, University Clinic Halle (Saale), Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Department of Radiotherapy, University Clinic Halle (Saale), Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany, Department of Gynecology and Obestetrics, University Clinic Halle (Saale), Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg.



Cardiotoxic and other side effects limit the usefulness of treatments for cancer.


This article is based on pertinent articles that were retrieved by a selective search in PubMed and other databases, and on the guidelines of the European Society of Cardiology, the Association of Scientific Medical Societies in Germany, and the European Society of Medical Oncology.


Prospective studies have shown that some treatments for cancer are cardiotoxic. The heart damage that they cause can manifest itself as arrhythmia, arterial hypertension, thromboembolism, angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, or heart failure. It has been observed that potentially lethal complications can arise as late as 40 years after treatment of the original cancer. The anthracycline drug doxorubicin, given in a dose of 500 mg/m2 of body surface area, has been found to cause cardiac complications in 4-36% of the patients treated with it. Trastuzumab and epirubicin cause dose-limiting cardiac events in 1.7-5% of patients, depending on the dosage. Paclitaxel causes bradycardia, intracardiac conduction block, or arrhythmia in 0.5% of patients. 18% of patients treated with sunitimib or sorafenib have clinical manifestations relating to the heart (angina pectoris, dyspnea). 5-fluorouracil can cause angina pectoris at the beginning of treatment and rarely causes myocardial infarction. Cardiac radiation therapy, a form of treatment practiced in earlier decades, can cause cardiac complications 20 years after the event. The opportunity to prevent cardiac complications of anthracycline drugs with dexrazoxane is decidedly limited, but initial studies have shown that treatment with beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors lessens the likelihood of cardiotoxic side effects. When cardiac complications arise, the generally applicable rules for the treatment of each type of cardiac problem should be followed. The oncological treatment protocol should be adjusted or switched to one that is less damaging to the heart.


Treating physicians need to be thoroughly acquainted with the cardiotoxic effects of anti-cancer drugs so that they can diagnose them early on and avoid jeopardizing the overall success of treatment.

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