Cardiotoxicity of the Antiproliferative Compound Fluorouracil

Becker, K.; Erckenbrecht, J.F.; Häaussinger, D.; Frieling, T.
April 1999
Drugs;Apr1999, Vol. 57 Issue 4, p475
Academic Journal
The antimetabolite fluorouracil (5-FU) is frequently administered for chemotherapy of various malignant neoplasms. The drug is well known for its adverse effects involving bone marrow, skin, mucous membranes, intestinal tract and central nervous system, whereas its cardiotoxicity is less familiar to clinicians. The pathophysiology of fluorouracil-associated cardiac adverse events is controversial and conclusions are based on clinical studies and case reports more than on solid experimental evidence. While clinical and electrocardiographic features suggest myocardial ischaemia as a main aetiological factor, possibly induced by coronary vasospasm, histomorphological and biochemical studies indicate a more direct drug-mediated cytotoxic action. Estimates of the overall incidence of fluorouracil cardiotoxicity have varied widely from 1.2 to 18% of patients. Patients may present with angina-like chest pain, cardiac arrhythmias or myocardial infarction. There is no unequivocally effective prophylaxis or treatment in this syndrome. Once fluorouracil administration is discontinued symptoms are usually reversible, although fatal events have been described. The overall mortality rate has been estimated to be between 2.2 and 13.3%. There is a high risk of relapse when patients are re-exposed to this drug following previous cardiac incidents. From the present data it is concluded that cardiotoxicity is a relevant but underestimated problem in fluorouracil treatment. Since the mechanisms of fluorouracil-associated cardiotoxicity are not yet fully understood, all patients undergoing this chemotherapy have to be carefully evaluated and monitored for cardiac risk factors and complaints. After cardiotoxic events, fluorouracil should definitely be withdrawn and replaced by an alternative antiproliferative regimen.


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