Pediatric Drugs

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 67–76

Anthracycline-Induced Cardiotoxicity in Children with Cancer

Strategies for Prevention and Management
  • Diana Iarussi
  • Paolo Indolfi
  • Fiorina Casale
  • Vincenzo Martino
  • Maria Teresa Di Tullio
  • Raffaele Calabrò
Leading Article


The fact that anthracyclines are cardiotoxic seriously narrows their therapeutic index in cancer therapy. The cardiotoxic risk increases with the cumulative dose and may lead to congestive heart failure (CHF) and dilated cardiomyopathy in adults and in children. The prevention of anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity is particularly important in children who can be expected to survive for decades after being cured of their malignancy. Attempts to reduce anthracycline cardiotoxicity have been directed towards: (i) decreasing myocardial concentrations of anthracyclines and their metabolites by dose limitation and schedule modification; (ii) developing less cardiotoxic analogs; and (iii) concurrently administering cardioprotective agents to attenuate the effects of anthracyclines on the heart. As regards schedule modification, avoidance of anthracycline peak levels may reduce the pathologic and clinical cardiotoxicity, although this has not always been observed. The analogs of doxorubicin, such as idarubicin and epirubicin, have similar cardiotoxicity to that of doxorubicin when given in amounts of equivalent myelotoxicity. Liposomal anthracyclines are a new class of agents that may permit more specific organ targeting, thereby producing less systemic and cardiac toxicity, but more studies are required to assess the advantages, if any, of these preparations over classical anthracyclines. The cardioprotective agent, dexrazoxane, an iron chelator, is highly effective and provides short-term cardioprotection to most patients receiving even the most intensive doxorubicin-containing regimens. Its long-term benefits remain to be determined. In addition, data remain insufficient to make specific recommendations regarding current use of dexrazoxane in children.

It is thought that subtle abnormalities, related to anthracycline treatment in childhood, can develop into more permanent myocardial disease resulting in cardiomyopathy, which may progress to CHF. As regards the therapy of patients with anthracycline cardiotoxicity, two different situations have, therefore, to be considered: (i) if the patient presents with cardiac abnormalities, such as a reduction in fractional shortening at echocardiogram, without cardiac symptoms; and (ii) if the patient has CHF.

In the presence of CHF, recovery with digitalis-diuretic therapy alone seldom occurs, and in patients who have refractory hemodynamic decompensation, heart transplantation is indicated. In patients with CHF, therapy with ACE inhibitors induces improvement in left ventricular structure and function, but this improvement is transient. Randomized clinical trials are, therefore, necessary to determine the effects of ACE inhibitors in mild-to-moderate left ventricular dysfunction.

The beneficial effects of β-adrenoceptor antagonists (β-blockers) on cardiac function in heart failure due to anthracyclines seem comparable with those observed in other forms of heart failure with systolic dysfunction. Many drugs are available to treat children with CHF due to anthracycline treatment, but they are only palliative.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Iarussi
    • 1
  • Paolo Indolfi
    • 2
  • Fiorina Casale
    • 2
  • Vincenzo Martino
    • 1
  • Maria Teresa Di Tullio
    • 2
  • Raffaele Calabrò
    • 1
  1. 1.Cattedra di Cardiologia, Dipartimento di Scienze Cardiotoraciche e RespiratorieSeconda Università di NapoliNaplesItaly
  2. 2.Servizio di Oncologia Pediatrica, Dipartimento di PediatriaSeconda Università di NapoliNaplesItaly

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