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Adriamycin and Heart Damage

artizan's picture
Posts: 60
Joined: Oct 2008

Has anyone had heart problems after treatment with Adriamycin? We are told it can damage the heart but there don't seem to be many details available. I went through numerous heart tests 4 years ago when I experienced chest pain. I never got an answer to what I was experiencing. The cardiologist said there were minor abnormalities but there was no follow up. I was put on Atenolol but went off of it when my heart rate dropped too low. My own conclusion is that it was perhaps caused by lymphatic fluid build up from physical exertion. Now I am experiencing an irregular heartbeat and am going for an EKG. Just curious if anyone knows what kind of heart problems are attributed to chemo.

RE's picture
Posts: 4644
Joined: Feb 2004

Well, I have had adriamycin twice once in 98 and again in 2007. I was given the mugga tests before, during and after to ensure my heart was handling it and it seems it went fine. I have had no problems with my heart since and just recenly had an EKG prior to surgery and it showed a normal heartbeat, hope your's does as well.

My best to you,


Ritzy's picture
Posts: 4382
Joined: Aug 2009

I haven't had this, but, want to wish you good luck and send you prayers!

Sue :)

Posts: 826
Joined: Jun 2007

I was on that too, and Herceptin. Both drugs can cause heart problems in a small percentage of patients, so the Oncologist did not give them simultaneously. I cannot remember what specific heart problems, if I ever knew, but you can go to chemocare.com to look up specific drugs, uses, and side effects. Other than that....You know....Ask your Doctor!

Best wishes, seof

Posts: 272
Joined: Feb 2004

Adriamycin has been known to cause cardiac toxicity which damages the heart muscle leading to shortness of breath, cough, loss of energy, irregular heartbeat and even congestive heart failure in severe cases. I was told CHF from chemotherapy can happen months or even years after so I am monitored closely. Scary as that information was, cancer seemed the greater threat back in 2003 when I had 4 cycles of AC. Now I've read there are drugs like Zinecard that have been approved to protect against heart damage while taking Adriamycin and Mitoxantrone used as a substitute for Adriamycin because it isn't as toxic to the heart and is better tolerated by some.
It's terrible that we have to choose one potentially dangerous path to protect ourselves from another.
Hope this information is what you were looking for.

KathiM's picture
Posts: 8077
Joined: Aug 2005

If I'm at a new center (like an ER), I tell them that I am a double cancer survivor, and that I had oxycilliplatin (colon) and Adriamycin (breast). Both are known for the heart side effects, and I had had them 6 months apart. My irregular heartbeat seems to happen more often if I am dehydrated...and I have talked to others that are the same...

My last AC was skipped because of my heart function.

It's just something to know about, and tell your treatment team about...


NorcalJ's picture
Posts: 192
Joined: Feb 2008

I have a very strong family history of heart disease---but no BC. I had a MUGA scan before A/C with a 60% ejection fraction and after Adriamycin, had an ejection fraction of 65%---some how it improved the heart muscles performance. I Wouldn't recommend this as an anecdote for heart problems tho!!LOL

I'd say to keep bugging them to keep testing you. And, it sounds like it can certainly be justified for your insurance.

artizan's picture
Posts: 60
Joined: Oct 2008

Thank you all for your information. I too had a MUGA scan before 4 rounds of A/C. I will inform my doctor that I took Adriamycin. I guess I forget that they don't automatically know what I was given.

Posts: 6
Joined: Nov 2008

Hi Artizan,
I'm relatively new to this discussion board. I joined in Nov. but didn't write anything until just recently. I had chemo last year at this time (Jan-June) with Epirubicin (instead of Adriamycin because I was in a clinical trial with Avastin at the same time and the trial called for E instead of A. Anyway, before chemo etc. everything was normal and after chemo my heart function (LVF) went way down (normal is 50%-70%- mine went down to 38%)and I needed to start taking heart meds to bring the function back up. Diagnosis was "chemotherapy induced cardiomyopathy" Anyway, my heart function is back up to normal and I will continue to take the heart med (Coreg) for at least a year according to my cardiologist. I also will be getting echocardiograms every 3 months for awhile. Like everyone on this site says, we really have some rotten choices (chemo and heart problems vs. cancer spread and death.) My cancer was stage III when I found it - between normal yearly mammograms no less. But my oncologist and cardiologist are really confident that the heart problems will eventually be ok. Heart problems apparently are a well known side effect of chemo. Continued good wishes going your way.

Posts: 3
Joined: Jan 2010

It's great that your heart function is back to normal. I hope and pray that mine goes up. I have no idea how long it's been so low. What dose of Coreg are you on? Any other meds for the heart?

My coreg is 10 mg. plus ramipril - 10 mg.

Thanks and good luck to you

Posts: 282
Joined: Jan 2008

I ended up having 4 leaking valves from the chemo. I already had a heart murmer but they are monitoring me and I'm doing fine. I get an echo every 3 months and the cardiologist just keeps on eye on all my results. Both the cardiologist and the oncologist work closely together so I just leave it in their hands.

Posts: 3
Joined: Jan 2010

I'm an 11 year breast cancer survivor and recently found out I have dilated cardiomyopathy.
My new doctor (a cardiologist) is pretty certain it is from the chemo/rad. I received in '98.
He did a catherization and my arteries are perfectly normal -- but my heart muscle's EF measured 35%. I had to learn all this new terminology. EF is ejection fraction and that is how fast your heart pumps out the blood. Normal is 50 - 70% so clearly I was very devastated.

I'm now on two heart meds and slowly getting used to the new diagnosis in my life. So not fair after what I have been through.

My question to you is do any of you have this side effect and how are you dealing with it.

Posts: 598
Joined: Sep 2009

Don't know about AC, but Herceptin can cause leaky valves. Maybe AC does too?

tommaseena's picture
Posts: 1771
Joined: Feb 2009

A-can cause heart problems as well as Herceptin.
I had echocardiogram before I started treatment and then every three months and then months after the AC treatment was done my EF dropped some and had echo every two weeks and the cardiologist put me on Lisinopril 5 mg and now my EF is higher now then it was before I started treatment. I am still on Herceptin so I will get an echo every three months.

Best of luck and hope the meds do their job and strengthen your heart.


Posts: 3
Joined: Jan 2010

Thanks for your well wishes. You are very lucky that your doctor is monitoring you so closely. I completed treatment Dec. of 1998 and never once did my oncologist recommend an Echo. I found this by mistake when I went in for a physical. It went all downhill from there. I'm very happy I've found this site. Been researching the web for a while now and it's very interesting how heart problems and cancer treatment are kept pretty quiet.

My oncologist said that she doesn't really keep track of cancer survivors hearts, so she was glad I came in to see her about my diagnosis. Not too many studies on this.

Posts: 1
Joined: Jan 2010

Just want to make others aware of this. My mom finished treatment 2 months ago (NHL). The other night she was taken to er in congestive heart failure. While in er they did 2 ekgs and an echo. BOTH ekgs were normal, but the echo showed significant weakness of the heart. Please don't assume that normal ekgs mean that everything is ok. If you are symtomatic, request further testing. Also, her echo from before treatment was normal, pretty much proving the heart damage was caused by adriamycin used in chemotherapy. Wish you brave survivors all the best.

Posts: 1
Joined: Mar 2010

Hi! I am glad to find this site! I was 33 when diagnosed and that was 12 years ago. I did 4 rounds of AC. Aprox 370 mg in all. However over the last 1 1/2 years I have experienced what some (who have gone through a similar experience) seem to call a heart attack. I have no family history of heart problems, I am vegetarian, am "young" and in good shape - exercise regularly . So when I went to the ER, when I had the second "attack". They tryed to be nice, but they were amused.

What I get is a sensation of ...like a ball of stuck food under the sternum (except I hadn't been around food for at least 3 or more hours in each scenario- and don't drink coffee, so no heart burn issues ever!), a sensation of...not really pain....but a discomfort pushing into my lungs, a dull pain shooting up into my jaw line, and once out into my shoulders. I am not aware of an irregular heart beat. The last time, I was really dizzy and felt like I was going to black out. They seem to be getting stronger.....?

Will be seeing a cardiologist in 2 weeks, and appreciate hearing your experiences. Really not interested in ending up with some kind of heart meds. Interested in knowing what others have been put on, and whether there are side effect concerns on those too!

Posts: 20
Joined: Oct 2009

OMG!! That's similar to what is happening with me!!

During my radiation treatment I would notice heart flutters. The radiologist said she didn't think it was caused by the radiation...perhaps it was anxiety. After my next to last treatment, I felt really dizzy and ended up collapsing. After a trip to the ER, I was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia -- basically a fast heartbeat. I was given Atenolol and told to check up with my primary care doctor. He wasn't too concerned...EKG was normal, but he sent me for an echo and holter monitor. I will get those results this week. I haven't had any more collapsing, but still notice heart flutters on occasion. I too wonder if Adrimycin played a role in my current problem. (I had six rounds of TAC.)

mariam_11_09's picture
Posts: 695
Joined: Nov 2009

I have plenty of irregular heart beats, palpatations and so on when my potassium levels are low and pains in my chest when it gets extremely low. Potassium levels can get low because of physical exertion, drinking loads of coffee or soda. Coffee and stress were my number one contributors.

Cucumbers, bananas and coconut water are great sources of potassium. I juice a cucumber with an apple each morning and have also given up on the coffee.

I am doing the AC portion of chemo and still have to do the Herception so I am doing what I can to keep my heart healthy since I know how and why I have problems. I am not saying this is the solution to your problem however it might be a consideration or something to look into.

Posts: 2
Joined: Dec 2014

I have failure as a result of being in a clinical trial where I was given four treatments with adriamycin and four treatments with taxotere.  The adriamycin treatments were so bad I could not keep any thing down for over five days, had two blood transfusions and was taken out of the clinical trial although my doctor continued to treat me with the same treatment.  A few years later I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation as a result of these drugs.  I have had nothing but problems as a result of this for the last eight or nine years.  My condition deteriorated until I now require a defibrilator and pacemaker.  My difibrilator shocked me 37 times in less than an hour because it was not in the position where it was supposed to be.  Never received an explanation as to why this happened.  It was reimplanted the end of May.  Then the end of July I fainted in a department store, broke my shoulder bone and was in a sling for six weeks.  Then while going thru therapy I was shocked again the end of October and had to have defib re-installed again.  In January 2014 I fainted in the kitchen and was hospitalized again.  The first of November this year I became very short of breath, called the squad and was hospitalized in the critical care ward.  My medicine was changed and I lost about 8 pounds.  Now however I have syncope and have passed out a few times and often feel like I am going to and have to sit down.

Grieving Husband
Posts: 1
Joined: Jun 2015

My wife was given large doses of Adriamycin back in 1993 and did survive but with long term side effects. Not knowing why she had shortness of breath, coughing and weakness for most of the 20 years she survived. She did get cured of breast cancer on the positive side but other drugs and treatment were known to do the same. Her quality of life was poor while still being extended. Knowing all this I'm conflicted with this. I did get to be with my loving wife for a long time but with greatly reduced ability to enjoy each day. I'm sorry more options were not presented and explored before such a damaging treatment was used. She had a full mastectomy with limp node removals. Not a word was ever said about heart damage when the treatment was presented and used. Now after it was too late we were told 3 weeks ago and she lost her battle 05/28/2015 after only 3 weeks of knowing she was loosing her battle. I'm happy I had her for so long but angrey we were not fully informed.



GlowMore's picture
Posts: 794
Joined: Feb 2008

Very sorry for your loss.  Know you are angry and totally understand .... Grief is a process of Anger, Sadness, Sorrow, and so many other things....we send you our Prayers for Peace and hope you will find a measure of it over the coming days.


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