- in Science
Doctors in Glasgow are to investigate why some modern cancer drugs could put patients at greater risk of heart problems.
New chemotherapy drugs which target cancer cells to stop them growing blood vessels can cause high blood pressure.
This can impair the pumping activity of the heart, leaving patients at risk of heart failure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
A major study is hoping to understand why this happens and how to prevent it.
Modern drugs have become increasingly effective in treating cancer and there have been major recent advances in their development.
However, a downside of stronger, more targeted treatment is that some patients develop heart problems as a side effect.
While it is accepted that cancer treatment has to be powerful, researchers believe they can identify those at risk of heart issues to prevent “swapping one health diagnosis for another”.
Science ‘I’d never had heart problems, but I was knocked off my feet’
Margaret Neil from Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire is 72 and was diagnosed with renal cell cancer.
She was prescribed a cancer inhibitor drug but within four weeks her heart function went from normal to severe dysfunction. The change was picked up during image scanning as part of Dr Lang’s study.
“I was knocked off my feet,” said Margaret. “Having never had a history of heart problems, I suddenly found myself getting very breathless. I was really weak. I could hardly walk and when I did I needed to use a stick. I felt awful.
“Thankfully, because I was in the study, it was picked up by the doctors who identified the problems it was creating for my heart and I was taken off the treatment. I don’t think I would be sitting here today if it hadn’t been for them.”
Margaret has since been moved on to immunotherapy treatment. Her heart function has returned to normal and she is now doing well.
“I am so grateful to everyone involved in my care,” said Margaret. “I have three grandchildren that I want to be around for and I’m now feeling so much better.”
Science ‘Increasing concern’
Dr Ninian Lang is leading a study at the University of Glasgow.
Funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) with £282,000, he hopes to better understand what causes these side effects and to help find ways of treating and preventing them.
Cardiologist Dr Lang said: “The outlook for cancer patients has improved dramatically over the years. However, the cardiovascular side effects of some treatment options are an increasing concern.
“We are working closely with colleagues at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre because we want patients with cancer to get the best treatment while minimising unacceptable heart and blood vessel side effects or risks.”
The study will look carefully at the heart with a series of detailed scans, including MRI, to develop a better understanding of how often these problems happen.
Dr Lang said: “We think that at least some of these problems may be reversible if caught early but we need to know more about how and when they happen. Our research should help doctors to predict which patients are more likely to be affected and to develop better ways of preventing or treating them.
“There has never been such an optimistic time for anti-cancer treatment as there is now. This means that we need to be really focused on making sure that patients don’t swap a cancer diagnosis for heart and blood vessel complications.”
The project will run over the next three years and will involve regular scanning and monitoring of cancer patients before, during and after treatment.
James Jopling, head of BHF Scotland, said: “Coping with cancer treatment can be difficult but the side effects of heart failure, heart attack and strokes can have a devastating impact on patients who are already experiencing health issues.
“We very much hope this important work being carried out by Dr Lang and his team and funded by the BHF will help minimise this.”