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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Nov;16(11):3502-8.

Epirubicin cardiotoxicity: an analysis of 469 patients with metastatic breast cancer.

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Department of Oncology, Herlev Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.



To evaluate the influence of cumulative dose, dose-intensity, single-dose level, and schedule of epirubicin on the risk of developing congestive heart failure (CHF) in patients with advanced breast cancer.


Four hundred sixty-nine consecutive anthracyline-naive patients with metastatic breast cancer were included. Only patients with cardiac failure according to New York Heart Association (NYHA) function class II or more were recorded as having CHF. For each patient, the following were calculated: the cumulative dose of epirubicin, mean dose-intensity (cumulative dose of epirubicin/duration of treatment), and single-dose level (cumulative dose of epirubicin/number of injections).


Thirty-four patients (7.2%) developed CHF. The cumulative risk of cardiotoxicity was 4% at 900 mg/m2 and increased exponentially to 15% at 1,000 mg/m2. Irradiation against the mediastinum and thoracic spine increased the risk of CHF (P=.025), but dose-intensity, single-dose level, and schedule had no influence on the risk of developing CHF. Age, previous adjuvant irradiation (to the left or right hemithorax), and previous chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil [CMF]) were not risk factors. The median time to onset of CHF following the last dose of epirubicin was 57 days (range, 0 to 853). Among patients with CHF, 13 (38.2%) died of cardiac failure. The median survival time for all patients with CHF was 162 days (range, 0 to +1,957). Previous irradiation directly against the heart increased the risk of death due to cardiac failure and decreased the median survival time to 125 days (range, 0 to 336).


The present large retrospective study of 469 patients substantiates previous results concerning the cardiotoxicity of epirubicin. A significantly increasing risk of CHF in patients who receive cumulative doses greater than 950 mg/m2 was established. The future recommended maximum cumulative dose of epirubicin should be 900 mg/m2 in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Previous irradiation against the heart leads to an increased risk of developing CHF with an accelerated course to death, which indicates an additive cardiotoxic effect of irradiation and epirubicin.

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