Two kinds of medications can prevent heart damage in breast cancer patients as they undergo chemotherapy, a new study suggests.
Chemotherapy improves survival among women with early-stage breast cancer, but can dramatically increase their risk of heart failure, the researchers explained.
This five-year study of 100 early-stage breast cancer patients in Canada found that two kinds of heart medicines — beta blockers and ACE inhibitors — seem to protect the heart during chemotherapy.
“We think this is practice-changing. This will improve the safety of the cancer treatment that we provide,” study co-investigator Edith Pituskin, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing and Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a university news release.
The heart medications not only protect the heart, but may also improve breast cancer patient survival rates by reducing the number of times chemotherapy needs to be interrupted, according to study leader Dr. Ian Paterson, a cardiologist at the Alberta Heart Institute and an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Alberta.
If a patient shows signs of heart weakening, chemotherapy is halted — sometimes for one or two months — until heart function returns to normal, he explained.
“We are aiming for two outcomes for these patients — we’re hoping to prevent heart failure and we’re hoping for them to receive all the chemotherapy that they are meant to get, when they are supposed to get it — to improve their odds of remission and survival,” Paterson said in the news release.
He also noted that heart failure often causes fatigue, shortness of breath or even death, making it “an equally devastating disease with worse prognosis than breast cancer.”
The findings were to be presented Wednesday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer treatment.