New, powerful drugs can fight diseases like cancer. However, in rare cases, they can cause heart damage too, according to the reports of doctors.
According to ABC News, the drugs are called checkpoint inhibitors and they have transformed cancer treatment in recent years by helping the immune system see and attack tumors. However, in less than one percent of patients, the immune system seems to attack not only the tumor but also the heart and other muscles.
"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?'"
Moslehi is the leader of the team of experts who reported about two patients who died of heart trouble two weeks after receiving their first doses of two Bristol-Myers Squibb drugs, Opdivo and Yervoy, for the deadly skin cancer melanoma.
Two similar drugs also are on the market, and the study leaders believe they might pose heart risks, too. "My sense is that this is a class effect, not limited to one drug," Moslehi said.
The dangers do not deny the huge benefits of these relatively new types of drugs, doctors stress. They have transformed the treatment of several types of cancer by helping the immune system see and attack tumors, which is called checkpoint inhibitors.
In rare cases, the immune system seems to attack not only the tumor that cause cancer but also the heart. It also attacks other muscles causing dangerous inflammation and heart rhythm problems. Patients need to be told of these risks, monitored closely and treated quickly with medicines to reduce the immune response if trouble develops.
Besides melanoma, the new drugs Opdivo-Yervoy combination is used to fight virus and treat some lung cancers, though at different doses. Other checkpoint inhibitors include Genentech's Tecentriq, for bladder cancer, and Merck & Co.'s Keytruda, which former President Jimmy Carter received for melanoma that spread to his brain, according to NBS News.