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Heart risks found for older women given Herceptin for breast cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A drug used to treat breast cancer is linked to higher risk of heart problems in older women. The drug, known as Herceptin (trastuzumab) was studied in women age 70 to 92. Information was taken from medical records of 45 women. The finding showed women with diabetes and existing heart problems might experience worsening symptoms while on the breast cancer medication.

Previous trials looked at Herceptin safety among young, healthier women. The new study showed approximately thirty three percent of women with existing heart disease or diabetes given trastuzumab developed heart problems with or without symptoms.

Compared to women without pre-existing heart disease and diabetes free, the rates of symptomatic or asymptomatic heart problems were 9.1 and 6 percent respectively.

Dr. Cesar Serrano, who conducted the research while working as a clinical fellow at the Department of Medical Oncology Breast Cancer Centre at the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain said, "This is the first study specifically to assess trastuzumab-related cardiac toxicity and the cardiovascular factors that are associated with an increased risk in a selected population of elderly breast cancer patients.”

The finding, according to Serrano, means older women given Herceptin for breast cancer treatment should be referred to a cardiologist for monitoring.

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Serrano says trastuzumab is generally well-tolerated, but the new found …”a significantly increased incidence of cardiac events among patients aged 70 and over with cardiovascular risk factors such as a history of cardiac disease and diabetes.”

All but one of the women recovered completely when they stopped taking Herceptin. Five women were able to resume treatment with trastuzumab.

The authors concluded older women given Herceptin for breast cancer treatment should be closely monitored for cardiac complications.

Women given the drug should have heart screening tests before treatment is started, during, and at the end of therapy, according to the drug manufacturer. Trastuzumab is only given to women with HER2-positive types of breast cancer, for disease that has spread to other parts of the body.

Ann Oncol (2011) doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdr348
"Trastuzumab-related cardiotoxicity in the elderly: a role for cardiovascular risk factors"
C.Serrano et al.
August 9 2011

Image credit: Morguefile