The use of anthracyclines, a group of potent anti-cancer agents incorporated into the treatment of a wide variety of solid and haematological tumours, is limited by its cardiotoxicity that can result in congestive heart failure (CHF). The best method to detect cardiotoxicity at an early stage in order to prevent severe deterioration, is still an unsolved problem. Although endomyocardial biopsy is considered to be the most sensitive and specific test for this purpose, its use is limited by its invasiveness. In daily practice, oncologists make use of parameters of systolic function (left ventricular ejection fraction, or fractional shortening) to detect cardiotoxicity, but these methods are not able to identify cardiotoxicity at an early stage. Based on increasing knowledge into the pathophysiology of anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity and heart failure in general, new methods including the determination of diastolic function parameters, anti-myosin scintigraphy, assessment of heart rate variability, and the determination of biochemical markers have been proposed to identify patients at risk of the development of CHF in an early stage. However, most of these newer methods have not yet been adequately evaluated to allow them to be recommended for use in routine clinical practice.
Copyright 1999 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.