Sutent, a medication used to treat kidney and stomach cancers, may cause heart failure in 15% of those who take the pill. The Sutent study, presented at a meeting of cancer specialists, confirmed other studies that suggest Sutent causes the risky but reversible side effect. Sutent is manufactured under the generic name sunitinib by Pfizer and has also been shown to damage heart cells.
“Our data demonstrate the need for routine cardiac monitoring in patients receiving sunitinib,” said Dr. Melinda Telli of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. “Cardiac adverse effects need to be carefully examined in future trials of sunitinib to determine the factors that place patients at risk for this complication. That information will allow us to administer this medication more safely to patients for whom the benefits of treatment clearly outweigh the risks.” Telli’s team studied 48 patients with kidney cancer or gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) who received Sutent. Seven of the group, or 15 percent, experienced heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood properly, she told the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Sunitinib—or Sutent—is used to treat GIST, a type of tumor that grows in the stomach, intestine (bowel), or esophagus (tube that connects the throat with the stomach) in people with tumors that were not treated successfully with other medications. Sutent is also used to treat advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC). RCC is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the kidneys. Sutent is in a class of medications called multikinase inhibitors and works by starving tumors or blocking the action of the abnormal protein that signals cancer cells to multiply and by stopping the tumors from growing blood vessels that feed themselves, enlarging the growths. This helps stop or slow the spread of cancer cells and may help shrink the tumors. Sutent is also currently being widely tested for the treatment of several other cancers.
In December, researchers reported in the medical journal Lancet that half of 75 patients with GIST who took the drug in a clinical trial developed high blood pressure, eight percent developed heart failure, and two had heart attacks.
While heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop working, heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable pump adequate blood throughout the body, meaning that the heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. Heart failure causes blood and fluid to back up into the lungs; the buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles and legs—called edema; tiredness, and shortness of breath. Heart failure is serious and can be fatal, contributing to about 300,000 deaths each year. Also, nearly one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, but because there are no symptoms, nearly one-third suffering don’t know they have it. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or kidney failure.