The cardiac toxicity of cancer chemotherapy.

J F Sequeira, I M Madruga, M Ribeiro, P C Duarte, D C Ferreira, J L Sarmento


The presence of secondary effects following the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs is an important limitation to cancer therapy. Of these, cardiotoxicity is of crucial importance due to its negative influence on survival. The anthracyclines and cyclophosphamide are the most important cardiotoxic antineoplastic agents currently used. If we agree on a ceiling dosage of chemotherapy we will deprive some patients with a highly functional cardiac reserve of a potential benefit in the control of their cancer. Other patients who are more susceptible to the cardiotoxic effects of anticancer agents will suffer from severe cardiac disfunction following small cumulative doses of anthracyclines. The authors discuss the main cardiotoxic effects of several antineoplastic drugs with special attention given to the anthracycline group. Several diagnostic methods potentially useful in cardiac monitoring are described. Radionuclide angiocardiography is considered the gold-standard in monitoring anthracycline cardiotoxicity. Other invasive methods like endomyocardial biopsy and right heart catheterization can be clinically useful when nuclear angiocardiography is inconclusive. The authors propose an approach to the prevention of anthracycline cardiotoxicity. Other chemotherapeutic agents like cyclophosphamide are associated with the presence of myopericarditis which is sometimes fatal. The cardiotoxic effects of anticancer treatment with 5-fluorouracil, mitoxantrone, carmustine, amsacrine and interferon are less frequent and usually more benign. Finally we discuss bone marrow transplantation and its related cardiotoxicity.

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