Evidence presented at San Antonio
Anyone who has had heart problems, after cancer treatment, might be walking around today with an ‘I told you so’ look on their face.
We have long suspected that we might be getting more than we bargained for with cancer drugs, and proof has just come up at the San Antonia Breast Cancer Symposium.
San Antonio Symposium
Every year the world’s top breast cancer fraternity gather in San Antonio, USA, for the most prestigious conference. Latest research and reports are aired; this year one said “Postmenopausal women with early breast cancer who take newer hormone drugs known as aromatase inhibitors are 26% more likely to develop heart disease, than those who take the old standby tamoxifen”.
Eitan Amir, MD, a senior fellow in oncology and hematology at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, went on to say treatment with aromatase inhibitors is associated with a significant increase in the risk of cardiovascular events, specifically heart attacks, angina, and heart failure, compared with tamoxifen”.
However, the actual risk of any individual woman developing heart problems was relatively small — about 4% — in women taking either aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen, he says.
In fact, the analysis showed that 132 patients must be treated with an aromatase inhibitor before one cardiovascular problem occurs. “This number needed to harm is relatively high,” Amir says.
But a woman who already has risk factors for heart disease and takes an aromatase inhibitor has a 7% chance of developing heart problems, Amir tells WebMD.
For the study, Amir polled the results of seven trials of tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors involving nearly 30,000 postmenopausal women with early breast cancer.
So should you be worried?
It makes sense to alert every doctor who treats you if you have any history of heart disease, if they are unaware of this. And ensure you are given all tests and carefully monitored.
But if the worst happens – what then?
After being on Tamoxifen, then Arimidex, then Aromasin, I was sent to Mr. Mario Petrou at the Royal Brompton Hospital, in London, as I had heart problems. He told me that I would need a seven-hour heart operation; this turned into almost a holiday!
First, always get on the right side of people, so I made a large box of macaroons and took them in for the team that were going to operate on me. When I woke up in Intensive Care there was a doctor leaning over me to say, “we are not sending you back to your room, we are sending you to the kitchen”.
Then, the team that looked after me were fantastic – from Patience who nearly had a heart attack herself when she found me lying on the floor. For some reason, I fell out of bed (and I wasn’t drunk); hadn’t hurt myself, but each night I was tucked up in a cot like a baby. James came in every day to temp me with lovely food (not hospital-like at all), and Mr. Petrou came in every day of the 14 days I was there to see I was OK
And after-care for heart patients is far, far superior to that given to cancer patients. Cancer patients often say they feel abandoned; you couldn’t possibly say that after cardiac treatment. We had a brilliant drugs helpline with all sorts of information about side effects; a district nurse visited every morning and gave marvellous care, and I still get a call once every three months with a kind nurse asking “are you OK?”
The Operation might have been major, but after-care was maximum strength.