Side Effects of Adriamycin, Herceptin, Other Breast Cancer Drugs May Increase Heart Risks: Study

Cardiovascular experts warn that some breast cancer treatments, including Adriamycin (doxorubicin), Herceptin and radiation treatment, may damage the heart, increasing the risk of fatal heart problems among breast cancer survivors. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a Scientific Statement on February 1, warning about the risk of heart damage from breast cancer treatments, and advising doctors to carefully monitor their effects on the heart.

The statement is an overview of the association’s current knowledge of breast cancer treatment and heart risks, and was also published in the medical journal Circulation.

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The association notes that a number of recent studies have highlighted potential heart damage caused by breast cancer treatments, as well as an increased risk of death due to cardiovascular problems among breast cancer survivors.

One of the drugs, Adriamycin, and other doxorubicin-based medications used in chemotherapy can result in damage to heart cells, the AHA warns. Studies have indicated that the risk can be mitigated by administering Adriamycin slowly over time, instead of all at once. There are also signs that a drug called dexrazoxane could reduce cell damage among patients who receive high doses of Adriamycin and similar drugs, and has recently been approved for use in patients with metastatic breast cancer who have been receiving doxorubicin during chemotherapy.

The statement also notes that HER-2 targeted breast cancer treatments like Herceptin, can weaken heart muscle, resulting in heart failure. This is temporary in some cases, and function can return over time. However, in some cases it can lead to permanent heart failure. The group called for doctors to watch for signs of heart muscle weakening and to slow down or alter treatment if that occurs.

In addition to drug risks, radiation treatment can also cause problems with arteries, the statement notes. resulting in coronary artery disease or blockages.

“Any patient who is going to undergo breast cancer treatment, whether they have heart disease at the beginning or not, should be aware of the potential effects of the treatments on their heart,” Dr. Laxmi Mehta, chair of the writing group for the scientific statement, said. “This should not deter or scare patients from undergoing breast cancer treatment, but should allow them to make informed decisions with their doctor on the best cancer treatment for them.”

The American Heart Association indicates that there are about three million breast cancer survivors in the United States, and there are about 47.8 million women nationwide living with heart disease.

18 Comments

  • DianeAugust 3, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 1993 at age 41. Took Adriamycjn along with other chemo drugs, 28 rounds of radiation, double mastectomy & 5 years of tamoxifen. In 2018 I was diagnosed with heart failure, EF 10. Heart transplant in 2020. I’d love to join all of you to go after the drug company for putting us all in danger with no knowledge of the horrendous side effects, which I s[Show More]I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 1993 at age 41. Took Adriamycjn along with other chemo drugs, 28 rounds of radiation, double mastectomy & 5 years of tamoxifen. In 2018 I was diagnosed with heart failure, EF 10. Heart transplant in 2020. I’d love to join all of you to go after the drug company for putting us all in danger with no knowledge of the horrendous side effects, which I surely thought were going to kill me! I’m one of the blessed ones who survived to tell my story.

  • MaryAugust 1, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    I too suffer from Adriamycin chemotherapy. (HORRIBLE SIDE EFFECTS) HEART, LUNGS, STOMACH PROBLEMS. I read it has been discontinued use in the U. S. Is there a class action lawsuit against the maker of this horrible stuff?

  • ArleneApril 6, 2022 at 1:44 am

    I am a three times cancer survivor from 1995-2018. I was given andriamycim in 1995-1996 in chemo, followed by radiation and 5 years of Tamoxifen. In 2008 had uterine/cervical cancer again followed by radiation. In 2017, diagnosed with breast cancer again followed by chemotherapy and herceptin. Surgery involved with all, however, only in the last couple weeks, was diagnosed with heart disease, had [Show More]I am a three times cancer survivor from 1995-2018. I was given andriamycim in 1995-1996 in chemo, followed by radiation and 5 years of Tamoxifen. In 2008 had uterine/cervical cancer again followed by radiation. In 2017, diagnosed with breast cancer again followed by chemotherapy and herceptin. Surgery involved with all, however, only in the last couple weeks, was diagnosed with heart disease, had a blockage on the LAD artery followed by a stent. Are these treatments killing me or saving me?

  • JudyFebruary 20, 2022 at 11:32 am

    I have heart failure class III and lung function of 39% I had Andrymiacin and cytoxin followed with taxol. It has ruined my life and am currently disabled from it. I need on going medical care that's expensive. I should be compensated by the drug company for this. Can I sue.. Does anybody know?

  • BarbaraMay 2, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    I had breast cancer 2099-2010, was giving Adriamycin & Cytioxan And 32 rounds of radiation. Still have the burn marks, when I got through 20 rounds of radiation, I ended up in the hospital, diagnosed with CHI, My fraction was 60% before the drug, 35 % after the drug, as the yrs go by, my many heart problems are severe now. I was 65 at the time, now 75, I was born with conge[Show More]I had breast cancer 2099-2010, was giving Adriamycin & Cytioxan And 32 rounds of radiation. Still have the burn marks, when I got through 20 rounds of radiation, I ended up in the hospital, diagnosed with CHI, My fraction was 60% before the drug, 35 % after the drug, as the yrs go by, my many heart problems are severe now. I was 65 at the time, now 75, I was born with congenital heart problems, had heart operation in 1955, in Boston, once I recovered, I went 55 yrs with no heart problems, and no dr appointments, Until I was given adriamycin,

  • ConnieJuly 23, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    I too had Adriamycin/Cytoxin combo for breast cancer in 2005/2006. After Chemo I kept have heart issues & was told we have no idea what is wrong. Years following I was in the hospital over & over with symptoms of heart attack but was not diagnosed until 2 yrs ago. My life is horrible, no energy ejection down to 35%. I never smoked or drank. An older sister had it too... & also deals with CHF. Doe[Show More]I too had Adriamycin/Cytoxin combo for breast cancer in 2005/2006. After Chemo I kept have heart issues & was told we have no idea what is wrong. Years following I was in the hospital over & over with symptoms of heart attack but was not diagnosed until 2 yrs ago. My life is horrible, no energy ejection down to 35%. I never smoked or drank. An older sister had it too... & also deals with CHF. Does anyone want to firm a group and go after Pfizer the drug company! I heard they knew about it causing Heart Failure & I was never warned about this side effect. Its ruined my life. Not fair. We need to go after the Drug Company.

  • LynnJune 12, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    I'm only 65 and I'm in congestive heart failure. I've always led a healthy lifestyle. My adricimin drug in the chemo has rendered my life horrible. I hate this. I wish there was a lawsuit against st the makers of this drug.

  • PatriciaMay 25, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    I was given adriamycin for breast cancer in 2011. I now have leukemia. Where can I find a lawyer to sue them.

  • Leigh AnneApril 28, 2020 at 12:17 am

    I was her+ had 6 rounds of taxotere, carboplatin, herceptin and perjeta. Then double mastectomy. Continued herceptin and perjeta for total of 11 months. My ejection fraction lowered from 55% to 36%. On the eleventh month. Still no improvement and this started Jan 2018

  • PatriciaMarch 20, 2020 at 5:04 am

    I received Adriamycin for breast cancer in 2012, along with radiation, emphasis on left breast. Then in 2013 was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. In 2019 my heart failure progressed to my ejection fraction going from 43% to15/20%currently. Currently going through review for an LVAD surgery, other wise medication treatment and earlier death.

  • AngelaNovember 6, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    I had breast cancer in 2005, was treated with chemo drugs including Adriamycin. I went into heart failure and had to have a heart transplant. I was told from the biopsy of my old heard that it was caused by Adriamycin. Such a long and hard road I went down. I was never told about the heart risks with the Adriamycin.

  • DebraOctober 31, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    I was given the chemo drug Doxorubicin for breast cancer in 2015. I was never told of the risks to my heart. I was never monitored for my heart at all . I'm 52 have had one heart attack m, one cardiac arrest. I have fluid that builds daily. My heart is working at 10%. They put a defibrillator in 2017. Now looking at transplant. I had a double mastectomy before chemo so chemo was A preventative [Show More]I was given the chemo drug Doxorubicin for breast cancer in 2015. I was never told of the risks to my heart. I was never monitored for my heart at all . I'm 52 have had one heart attack m, one cardiac arrest. I have fluid that builds daily. My heart is working at 10%. They put a defibrillator in 2017. Now looking at transplant. I had a double mastectomy before chemo so chemo was A preventative measure.

  • SusanOctober 26, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    I just lost a dear friend, a little over a year from her breast cancer diagnosis. She went into heart failure in the parking lot of her cardiologist. She was taking Herceptin & developed heart issues, which lead to breathing issues. Heart failure killed her, not the cancer. She believed her doctors when they told her the Herceptin would help extend her life... it killed her! Heart failure is a kno[Show More]I just lost a dear friend, a little over a year from her breast cancer diagnosis. She went into heart failure in the parking lot of her cardiologist. She was taking Herceptin & developed heart issues, which lead to breathing issues. Heart failure killed her, not the cancer. She believed her doctors when they told her the Herceptin would help extend her life... it killed her! Heart failure is a known side effect. Are there really enough known benefits to keep experimenting with human lives???

  • LisaMay 22, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    My wife was just diagnosed with cardiomyopathy 4 years post treatment for breast cancer and radiation. TAC was "dose densed" for stage 2 breast cancer (one lymph node with cancer). She was also on tamoxifen for 4+ years. We showed up in the ER two weeks ago after 4 days of shortness of breath, fatigue and pain in the abdominal area. Nausea and diarrhea led us to believe maybe it was food poison[Show More]My wife was just diagnosed with cardiomyopathy 4 years post treatment for breast cancer and radiation. TAC was "dose densed" for stage 2 breast cancer (one lymph node with cancer). She was also on tamoxifen for 4+ years. We showed up in the ER two weeks ago after 4 days of shortness of breath, fatigue and pain in the abdominal area. Nausea and diarrhea led us to believe maybe it was food poisoning or a hernia. Long story short: her heart was almost two times larger than normal ,she was throwing pulmonary embolisms into the lungs from clots found in the leg, and her heart ejection was 1/3 of normal. In other words, she was in advanced heart failure and close to dying. The immediate causality given was heart damage done by adriamycin and radiation. Clots may have been attributed to tamoxifen. Her heart was fine pre cancer treatment and now we're talking a possible heart transplant to keep her alive. No one warned us about these risks and she never received heart monitoring post chemo/radiation. I feel like the supposed "cure" for cancer may well be the thing that cuts her life short. She's only 54 years old. Please INSIST that you are closely monitored for heart damage if taking adriamycin and do not dose dense! My heart is breaking and I cannot stand to see her suffering now. It is a nightmare! God Bless you all.

  • JackieMay 21, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    I have cardiomyopathy thanks to my chemo treatments also. There should be a class action suit. I was NEVER informed of any possible side effects of this kind!!!

  • CatherineMarch 21, 2019 at 5:21 am

    I have CHF as a result of Adriamycin cancer treatments and would like to know if there are any class action law suits

  • JanetFebruary 14, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Heart failure, 70 yr old female diagnosed with breast cancer 2007 and adriamycin/cytoxin used to combat cancer. Is there class action on side effects of these drugs?

  • SuzanMay 17, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    I have congestive heart failure from Adriamycin. Not fixable. Quality of life low. Many other problems associated with it.

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