If you or someone you love has had a bout with cancer, then you know how terrifying the treatment options are.
I’m talking about invasive biopsies, painful surgeries and sickening chemo and radiation.
But recently, cancer experts have been pushing immunotherapy drugs as a less intrusive treatment for cancer patients.
They were supposed to be a godsend — but for some people, they’ve been a one-way ticket to the grave.
These powerful drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, work by harnessing the power of your immune system. They fight cancer by attacking and destroying tumor cells.
The problem is cancer’s not the only thing they’re attacking in some folks.
You see, these drugs can prompt an all-out immune attack on a vital organ — the heart. These attacks are similar to those caused by an organ transplant and result in high levels of inflammation, which can lead to deadly heart problems.
But what’s even more terrifying — this is happening to folks who have no history of heart problems.
In several cases, these complications resulted in death. Sometimes after just one treatment.
According to experts, taking two different checkpoint inhibitors at once puts you at greatest risk for suffering one of these attacks. It’s one of these lethal combos that’s responsible for the deaths of six patients enrolled in clinical trials.
Currently, there are only four checkpoint inhibitors on the market: Yervoy, Opdivo, Keytruda and Tecentriq. Cardiac issues are most prevalent and severe in patients taking a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy. Symptoms can come on quickly and include chest pains, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Now, many docs aren’t ready to write off immunotherapy just yet. And some people have achieved long-lasting remissions.
But if you’re suffering from cancer and are eligible for immunotherapy, discuss your concerns with your doctor. Experts recommend requesting extra cardiac testing, including echocardiograms, before starting this treatment.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily