Drug Improves Long-Term Heart Health for Child Cancer Patients

Child cancer patients who have been treated with the chemotherapy drug anthracycline are three times more likely to suffer from cardiac death 30 years after treatment than children not treated with the drug. Now, a complementary drug given during the time of chemotherapy has been shown to significantly improve long-term heart health, according to researchers of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Childhood ALL Consortium.

Anthracycline is a common class of cancer drug that is used to treat everything from leukemias and lymphomas to breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. In child cancer cases, anthracycline drugs such as doxorubicin are commonly associated with the treatment of such cancers as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). More than half of all child cancer patients receive treatment via anthracycline.

While often remarkably effective, anthracycline results in internal oxidation that can damage the tissue of the heart. However, the Dana-Farber study shows that patients given dexrazoxane in combination with doxorubicin maintained healthy heart function well beyond the time of treatment.

Just as important, dexrazoxane does not appear to reduce the effectiveness of anthracycline chemotherapy treatments.

These findings are based on a 15-year study led by Dr. Steven Lipshultz of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. From 1996 to 2000, he and his colleagues enlisted 205 child cancer patients to take part in the study. Over those four years, patients were split into two groups – one that received a high-dose of doxorubicin only and one that received an infusion of dexrazoxane prior to doxorubicin treatment.

For the next several years, the research team followed up with patients by monitoring their heart function with the help of echocardiograph equipment. Each patient’s heart health was compared to age-appropriate predicted measurements.

At the 5-year follow-up mark, children given dexrazoxane showed no statistically significant differences in heart function when compared to healthy peers. In contrast, patients who received doxorubicin alone were found to have significantly reduced heart function.

When looking at gender of patients, researchers report that females may enjoy greater benefits from dexrazoxane than males. This may be due to the fact that anthracycline has historically been more detrimental to female hearts than male hearts.

Previous studies have shown the short-term benefits of dexrazoxane in relation to heart health. Additional long-term follow-ups are required to further validate the efficacy and effectiveness of dexrazoxane over the long-term. Dr. Lipshultz also encourages researchers to initiate cooperative group trials that expand the study beyond the small scale.

Findings of the study were published in the September 16th online edition of Lancet Oncology. The research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship.