Anthracycline cardiotoxicity

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2012 May;11 Suppl 1:S21-36. doi: 10.1517/14740338.2011.589834. Epub 2011 Jun 2.


Introduction: Anthracyclines are widely prescribed anticancer agents that cause a dose-related cardiotoxicity, often aggravated by nonanthracycline chemotherapeutics or new generation targeted drugs. Anthracycline cardiotoxicity may occur anytime in the life of cancer survivors. Understanding the molecular mechanisms and clinical correlates of cardiotoxicity is necessary to improve the therapeutic index of anthracyclines or to identify active, but less cardiotoxic analogs.

Areas covered: The authors review the pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic and biochemical mechanisms of anthracycline cardiotoxicity and correlate them to clinical phenotypes of cardiac dysfunction. Attention is paid to bioactivation mechanisms that converted anthracyclines to reactive oxygen species (ROS) or long-lived secondary alcohol metabolites. Preclinical aspects and clinical implications of the "oxidative stress" or "secondary alcohol metabolite" hypotheses are discussed on the basis of literature that cuts across bench and evidence-based medicine. Interactions of anthracyclines with comorbidities or unfavorable lifestyle choices were identified as important cofactors of the lifetime risk of cardiotoxicity and as possible targets of preventative strategies.

Expert opinion: Anthracycline cardiotoxicity is a multifactorial process that needs to be incorporated in a translational framework, where individual genetic background, comorbidities, lifestyles and other drugs play an equally important role. Fears for cardiotoxicity should not discourage from using anthracyclines in many oncologic settings. Cardioprotective strategies are available and should be used more pragmatically in routine clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohols / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Anthracyclines / administration & dosage
  • Anthracyclines / adverse effects*
  • Anthracyclines / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Heart Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Alcohols
  • Anthracyclines
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species