Dexrazoxane has been used successfully to reduce cardiac toxicity in patients receiving anthracycline-based chemotherapy for cancer (predominantly women with advanced breast cancer). The drug is thought to reduce the cardiotoxic effects of anthracyclines by binding to free and bound iron, thereby reducing the formation of anthracycline-iron complexes and the subsequent generation of reactive oxygen species which are toxic to surrounding cardiac tissue. Clinical trials in women with advanced breast cancer have found that patients given dexrazoxane (about 30 minutes prior to anthracycline therapy; dexrazoxane to doxorubicin dosage ratio 20:1 or 10:1) have a significantly lower overall incidence of cardiac events than placebo recipients (14 or 15% vs 31%) when the drug is initiated at the same time as doxorubicin. Cardiac events included congestive heart failure (CHF), a significant reduction in left ventricular ejection fraction and/or a > or = 2-point increase in the Billingham biopsy score. These results are supported by the findings of studies which used control groups (patients who received only chemotherapy) for comparison. The drug appears to offer cardiac protection irrespective of pre-existing cardiac risk factors. In addition, cardiac protection has been shown in patients given the drug after receiving a cumulative doxorubicin dose > or = 300 mg/m2. It remains to be confirmed that dexrazoxane does not affect the antitumour activity of doxorubicin: although most studies found that clinical end-points (including tumour response rates, time to disease progression and survival duration) did not differ significantly between treatment groups, the largest study did show a significant reduction in response rates in dexrazoxane versus placebo recipients. Dexrazoxane permits the administration of doxorubicin beyond standard cumulative doses; however, it is unclear whether this will translate into prolonged survival. Preliminary results (from small nonblind studies) indicate that dexrazoxane reduces cardiac toxicity in children and adolescents receiving anthracycline-based therapy for a range of malignancies. The long term benefits with regard to prevention of late-onset cardiac toxicity remain unclear. With the exception of severe leucopenia [Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) grade 3/4 toxicity], the incidence of haematological and nonhaematological adverse events appears similar in patients given dexrazoxane to that in placebo recipients undergoing anthracycline-based chemotherapy. Although preliminary pharmacoeconomic analyses have shown dexrazoxane to be a cost-effective agent in women with advanced breast cancer, they require confirmation.

Dexrazoxane is a valuable drug for protecting against cardiac toxicity in patients receiving anthracycline-based chemotherapy. Whether it offers protection against late-onset cardiac toxicity in patients who received anthracycline-based chemotherapy in childhood or adolescence remains to be determined. Further clinical experience is required to confirm that it does not adversely affect clinical outcome, that it is a cost-effective option, and to determine the optimal treatment regimen.

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