Diabetics' hearts may be more sensitive to chemo

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Chemo drug – iStock
Chemo drug – iStock

A small study finds that cancer patients who have diabetes may suffer worse heart damage from chemotherapy, potentially boosting their risk of heart failure.

Cardiotoxicity can be reversible

There are increasing reports of toxic effects to the heart – also known as cardiotoxicity – due to chemotherapy with drugs known as anthracyclines, said study lead author Dr Ana Catarina Gomes. Such drugs include doxorubicin (Doxil) and epirubicin (Ellence).

Gomes is a cardiologist in training at the Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, Portugal.

According to Gomes, this is "mainly because a smaller proportion of patients now die from cancer. In the coming years, this cardiotoxicity looks set to increase the burden of heart failure in cancer survivors."

Read: Hypersensitivity reaction to chemotherapy

However, she said, "The good news is that cardiotoxicity can be reversible in the early stages before overt heart failure develops."

Lifestyle changes

The new study tracked 83 patients in a hospital surveillance programme, including 54 with breast cancer, 20 with lymphoma and nine with gastric cancer. Their average age was 52, and 78 percent were female.

Patients with diabetes showed more signs of the damage that's considered an early warning sign of heart failure. But the study did not prove that the blood sugar disease caused more damage from chemotherapy.

Read: Chemotherapy can backfire and boost cancer growth

The findings were presented recently at the EuroEcho-Imaging meeting, in Leipzig, Germany.

"Cancer patients should strictly control cardiovascular risk factors with lifestyle changes and, if necessary, with medication," Gomes said in a news release from the European Society of Cardiology. "But, of course, cardiovascular prevention should never postpone the beginning of chemotherapy, since treating cancer is the first priority."

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Read more:

Diabetics face much greater risk of heart damage

Cost of breast cancer chemotherapy varies widely in US

Diabetes undetected in Africa

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