New way to detect heart damage caused by chemotherapy

September 25, 2017, University of Oxford
Credit: Shutterstock

The high-tech scanning techniques were enabled by funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), and could reveal whether chemotherapy is damaging a person's heart before any symptoms appear.

Doxorubicin is a commonly used type of which slows or stops the growth of cancer cells by blocking an enzyme which need to divide and grow. The drug is used to treat a wide variety of cancers including; breast cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma, and has drastically improved survival rates from these diseases.

However, doxorubicin and other chemotherapy drugs can also cause , where the muscle is damaged and can't pump blood around the body effectively.

Currently, there is no non-invasive way of establishing whether chemotherapy is affecting a person's heart and symptoms, such as breathlessness, usually appear when the heart has already suffered significant damage. This means the damage is only discovered once a person is diagnosed with irreversible heart failure.

The new research found that, in rats, a type of imaging called hyperpolarised MRI can be used to see what's happening deep inside the heart's cells.

If found to work in people, the scanning technique may make it possible for doctors to identify early and either change the person onto different chemotherapy drugs if possible or give them an extra drug that might have a protective effect. The scans would allow doctors to see how the are producing energy, a process which doxorubicin is thought to affect.

Women treated with the chemotherapy drug have been found to be particularly at risk of developing life-threatening heart failure.

Dr Kerstin Timm, a Postdoctoral researcher and BHF Fellow at the University of Oxford, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, said: "Around five per cent of patients treated with doxorubicin will develop heart failure. The problem is that we can't tell if a patient's heart is being damaged by their chemotherapy before it's too late.

"First and foremost, we need to treat the cancer as effectively as we can. But we need to give these patients a good quality of life after treatment, and that means monitoring them and taking any action before they risk developing heart failure."

More than 3.5 million women in the UK are living with cardiovascular disease and the new research was presented earlier this month at the Global Cardio-oncology Summit in London, as part of BHF efforts to raise awareness of the need to fund lifesaving heart research.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the BHF, said: "To survive , only to develop heart failure is a devastating reality for thousands of people in the UK. We know that some cause heart failure. But right now doctors have limited ability to detect this early.

"By funding this research, we're hoping to finally find a way to identify heart damage in its earliest stages and help to stop it in its tracks."

Explore further: Heart failure is as 'malignant' as some common cancers

Related Stories

Heart failure is as 'malignant' as some common cancers

May 4, 2017
A new analysis finds that, despite advances in care, men and women with a diagnosis of heart failure continue to have worse survival rates than patients with certain common cancers.

Genetic biomarker IDs patients with increased risk for heart damage by anthracycline chemo

December 19, 2016
Bottom Line: Among women with breast cancer who received a type of chemotherapy called an anthracycline, those who had a certain genetic biomarker had a significantly increased risk for having anthracycline-induced congestive ...

Many adults have insufficient knowledge about heart failure

March 22, 2017
In the largest German survey on heart failure to date, investigators found that the overall awareness of heart failure has not increased over the past decade and is not at a satisfactory level.

New molecule protects heart from toxic breast cancer drugs

February 3, 2015
A new molecule has been found that protects the heart from toxic breast cancer drugs and also kills the cancerous tumor. The research from Italy addresses the burgeoning problem of heart disease in cancer survivors and is ...

Cardioprotective drug helps prevent long-term heart damage in children receiving chemotherapy

September 5, 2016
A potent chemotherapy drug can be life saving for children with cancer, but a new review highlights how it can have long-lasting negative effects on the heart. The review, which is published in the British Journal of Clinical ...

Stem cell patch shows early promise in treating heart failure

April 5, 2017
Patching a damaged heart with a patient's own muscle stem cells improves symptoms of heart failure, according to a Phase I clinical trial reported in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the ...

Recommended for you

'Smart stent' detects narrowing of arteries

June 19, 2018
For every three individuals who have had a stent implanted to keep clogged arteries open and prevent a heart attack, at least one will experience restenosis—the renewed narrowing of the artery due to plaque buildup or scarring—which ...

Marriage may protect against heart disease / stroke and associated risk of death

June 18, 2018
Marriage may protect against the development of heart disease/stroke as well as influencing who is more likely to die of it, suggests a pooled analysis of the available data, published online in the journal Heart.

Deaths from cardiac arrest are misclassified, overestimated

June 18, 2018
Forty percent of deaths attributed to cardiac arrest are not sudden or unexpected, and nearly half of the remainder are not arrhythmic—the only situation in which CPR and defibrillators are effective—according to an analysis ...

Tick-borne meat sensitivity linked to heart disease

June 15, 2018
University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have linked sensitivity to an allergen in red meat—a sensitivity spread by tick bites—with a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries of the heart. This buildup may ...

The molecules that energize babies' hearts

June 14, 2018
A metabolic process that provides heart muscle with energy fails to mature in newborns with thickened heart walls, according to a Japan–Canada research team.

Tobacco aside, e-cigarette flavorings may harm blood vessels

June 14, 2018
Flavor additives used in electronic cigarettes and related tobacco products could impair blood vessel function and may be an early indicator of heart damage, according to new laboratory research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.