Herceptin Side Effects May Increase Risk of Heart Problems: Study

The side effects of Herceptin, a Roche Holding AG breast cancer drug, could increase the risk of heart problems for older patients, according to the findings of a new study. 

Spanish researchers found that older patients with a history of cardiac disease or diabetes were at higher risk of heart problems after taking the drug. Their findings were published in the latest issue of the Annals of Oncology.

The researchers looked at data from 45 breast cancer patients between the ages of 70 and 92 who had been treated with Herceptin for aggressive breast cancer since 2005. Eight of the patients developed signs of asymptomatic Herceptin cardiotoxicity. Four of the patients, about 9%, developed symptomatic congestive heart failure. All but one recovered in about five weeks once they stopped taking Herceptin and five were able to restart treatment.

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Herceptin is often used to treat what are known as HER2 positive tumors, an aggressive form of breast cancer which the drug appears to be effective in fighting. But its use with some chemotherapy drugs known as anthracyclines is suspected of increasing the risk of heart damage and leukemia, according to a 2009 breast cancer drug study.

Researchers say that the findings of the study show the importance of including elderly breast cancer patients in clinical trials. They are typically excluded from such trials, which tend to focus on younger women.

The researchers also determined that while Herceptin health benefits may still outweigh the drug’s risks, it could be crucial for health care professionals to monitor elderly patients for Herceptin heart problems, particularly among populations who have a history of diabetes or heart disease.

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