Exactly which chemotherapy drugs are cardiotoxic?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Exactly which chemotherapy drugs are cardiotoxic?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

The chemotherapy drugs known to be cardiotoxic belong to a class of chemo drugs called anthracyclines. Technically these drugs are antibiotics, although they are very strong and would not be used against bacteria like most antibiotics.

The easiest way to figure out which drugs fall into this category is to watch for names ending in "rubicin." The most popular and best known of these drugs is doxorubicin, often known by the brand name Adriamycin. The nickname of this drug, which is part of many breast cancer regimens, is "the red devil" because of its distinctive color. Others are epirubicin, idarubicin and daunorubicin.

One thing to keep in mind when becoming aware of these chemotherapy drugs is that they can be part of a multi-part regimen. Adriamycin, for example, is the "A" in the popular breast cancer regimen ACT, Adriamycin-Cytoxan-Taxol, while epirubicin is the "E" in ECT.

Anthracyclines have been shown in studies to cause damage to the heart muscle, which can lead to heart attack and stroke in those at risk. Therefore, oncologists often require a MUGA scan to evaluate your heart health before prescribing doxorubicin or another of these drugs. Like most chemotherapy drugs, they have other side effects as well, such as hair loss, and low blood cell counts, which you'll want to be aware of before treatment so you can prepare for them.