Certain cancer medications that enlist the immune system to fight cancer can, in rare cases, lead to heart damage.
Powerful drugs that enlist the immune system to fight cancer can, in rare cases, cause heart damage, doctors are reporting.
So far, fewer than 1 percent of patients taking these medicines — called checkpoint inhibitors — have developed heart trouble. But in those who do, the damage can be severe, and the drugs have led to several deaths by provoking the immune system to attack the heart. The risk appears highest when patients take two different checkpoint inhibitors at once.
“This is a new complication of potentially lifesaving drugs,” said Dr. Javid J. Moslehi, the director of cardio-oncology at Vanderbilt School of Medicine and the senior author of an article published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. “We’re working to develop treatments for it. Our job is not to say the drugs are bad, but to say, ‘How can we deal with it?’”
The drugs, a form of immunotherapy, are considered a huge breakthrough in cancer treatment. Although they do not work for everyone, they have resulted in lasting remissions for many, including people who were expected to die from advanced cancer that had resisted every other treatment.
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