Anthracylines are a group of chemotherapy drugs used to treat a variety of childhood cancers. There is both good and bad news associated with anthracyclines. The good news: significantly increased survival rates. The bad news: possible heart problems that may not show up for 10 -1 5 years. Anthracyclines include:

  • Adriamycin
  • Daunomycin
  • Idarubicin
  • Mitoxantrone

If anthracyclines are part of your treatment plan, it is important that you know it so you can take the necessary precautions.

So, what’s the problem?

An article written by Nancy Keene and Dr. Kevin Oeffinger, M.D. (Late Effects to the Heart, 2000 Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation Newsletter) sums up how your heart functions.

The heart is a large muscle that is divided into four chambers and is designed to pump the blood around the body. The upper chambers or rooms are called atria and the lower chambers are called ventricles. The blood returning from the body enters the right atrium, is squeezed into the right ventricle, and then is pumped into the blood vessels in the lungs. It is here that the oxygen we breathe is transferred into many small blood vessels in the lungs. The blood, now rich with oxygen, returns to the left atrium and then is squeezed into the left ventricle, the largest and most powerful of the chambers. The left ventricle contracts to circulate the blood to the entire body.

OK – So what’s the big deal with anthracyclines, you might be asking? We know that these drugs can effect the functioning of your heart’s left ventricle. This is a problem when your heart needs to work harder, like during exercise or strenuous activity. The weakened left ventricle – responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood back into your body – may not be capable of this heavy duty pumping action.

What do I have to do?

If you are going to be taking anthracylcines, you will probably have some baseline tests (EKG and ECHO cardiogram) done before you start taking the drug. These tests will be repeated throughout your treatment and then annually or as often as your doctor suggests. You also have to restrict activities that put a heavy strain on your heart. Two sports in particular should be avoided: Football and Weight lifting. You can still participate in many other sports and are encouraged to do so. You can still dance, swim, and play tennis, basketball, soccer and baseball. Just remember that the effects of anthracyclines are long lasting and need life-long attention. As you get older, you should always take these precautions to stay on the safe side.