Mar 17, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Prostate cancer treatment linked to fatal heart attacks, Harvard researchers say

Oct 29, 2014 03:58 PM EDT

Prostate cancer drugs could very well extend the life of affected men by shrinking its tumors and slowing the cancer cells' growth. The same treatment, though, could also put these men's lives in peril if these drugs counteract with their heart problems.

A recent study from Harvard Medical School found that common drugs for prostate cancer are linked to fatal heart attacks.

Researchers studied 5,077 men with prostate cancer, whose average age was 70, and who were treated with androgen deprivation therapy from 1997 to 2006. The research found that for those with history of heart problems, the risk of cardiac death rose sharply after undergoing the hormone treatment.

Reports from The Telegraph said the study discovered that men who had previously suffered  a heart attack or congestive heart failure had three times the risk of heart-related deaths, compared to men who were not on the therapy.

Also, their risk of dying from a heart-related problem within five years was 7 per cent -- compared with 2 per cent for those who were not on  therapy. By the age of 70, around one in ten men has suffered a heart attack or suffered from congestive heart failure, the study revealed.

While cancer experts underscored that the benefits of the life-extending treatment normally outweigh any possible risks, the Harvard-based researchers concluded that the treatment should be avoided in patients with existing heart problems who have tumors that are slow growing and have lower risk.

Dr Paul Nyugen, the group's lead researcher, said:

"While androgen deprivation therapy can be a lifesaving drug for men with prostate cancer and significantly increase the cure rates when used with radiation for aggressive disease, this study also raises the possibility that a small subgroup of men who have significant heart disease could experience increased cardiac death on ADT."

He added, "I would still say that for men with significant heart problems, we should try to avoid ADT when it is not necessary - such as for men with low-risk disease or men receiving ADT only to shrink the prostate prior to radiation. However, for men with high-risk disease, in whom the prostate cancer benefits of ADT likely outweigh any potential cardiac harms, ADT should be given even if they have heart problems, but the patient should be followed closely by a cardiologist to ensure that he is being carefully watched and optimized from a cardiac perspective.'"

The study provides for an important guide for prostate cancer patients and doctors who are keen on having ADT for the cancer treatment. This study may also be a warning for those suffering from heart diseases as there should strike a balance between cancer medication and heart monitoring to maximize longevity of those who have both diseases.

In the U.S, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, after skin cancer. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in the country, second only to lung cancer, where an estimated 29,480 men will die of the said disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer also occurs mainly in older men, with six out of 10 cases diagnosed in men aged 65 or older.

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