Anthracyclines are a commonly used category of chemotherapy drugs for treating breast cancer in women. The best known drug in this category is Adriamycin. The problem with using these drugs, however, is that they can significantly increase the risk of heart muscle damage.
These drugs work by targeting an Her2 gene contained in many breast cancer tumors. Dr. Dennis Slamon of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center has noted multiple studies which indicate that only about 8-20% of cancer patients have an overactive Her2 gene which is sensitive to anthracyclines. When anthracyclines are used in combination with another powerful chemotherapy agent, Herceptin, which also targets Her2 genes in tumors, the risk of heart damage is increased five times with no added therapeutic benefit. For this reason, the National Breast Cancer Coalition is currently suggesting reconsideration of treatment guidelines.