A GRAN of three says being picked for a study investigating the side effects of newer cancer drugs may have saved her life.

Margaret Neil’s heart function went from normal to “severe dysfunction” within four weeks of taking a targeted chemotherapy drug for kidney cancer.

She says the treatment left her “breathless, weak and unable to walk.”

Cardiologists leading a new Glasgow University study discovered Margaret's heart had been left severely damaged by the treatment.

While the outlook for people diagnosed with cancer has improved dramatically, heart doctors say some patients are developing “unacceptable” side effects including heart problems after being prescribed some treatments.
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Targeted drugs are technically chemotherapy but aim to kill cancer cells without destroying normal cells, unlike traditional intravenous forms and are generally used in more advanced cases.

However some cause high blood pressure and can impair the pumping activity of the heart, leaving patients at risk of heart failure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. 

Margaret, 72 a grandmother of three, from Kilmarnock, in East Ayrshire, was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer last year.

Doctors said surgery wasn’t an option because the cancer had spread to her liver. She was prescribed a type of targeted chemotherapy treatment known as an anti-angiogenic., which aim to stop tumours from growing their own blood vessels and getting bigger.

She said: “Having never had a history of heart problems, I suddenly found myself getting very breathless. I could hardly walk and when I did I needed to use a stick. 

“I was knocked off my feet.

“Thankfully because I was put forward for the study, it was picked up by the doctors who identified the problems it was creating for my heart.

“If they hadn’t put me on the trial, I wouldn’t be standing here today. My heart was in such a bad state, it would have conked out.”

Margaret said her side-effects have now all but disappeared after she was switched to an immunotherapy treatment, which aims to boosts the body’s natural defences to fight cancer.

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Margaret, who is married to Roy, 74, had a scan last week and is due to get the results today. She says her three grandchildren are the reason she is “fighting so hard.”

She said: “It’s going well, it doesn’t make me tired and I’m feeling a lot better. 

“It hasn’t shrunk the cancer yet but it’s keeping it at bay.”

Dr Ninian Lang is leading the project at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Science, which was funded by British Heart Foundation Scotland

He said: “There has never been such an optimistic time for anti-cancer treatment as there is now. 

“However, the cardiovascular side effects of some treatment options are an increasing concern.

"By looking carefully at the heart with a series of detailed scans, including MRI, we will have a better understanding of how often these problems happen. 

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“We think that at least some of these problems may be reversible if caught early but we need to know more about how and when they happen.

“We are working closely with colleagues at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre because we want patients with cancer to get the best treatment while minimising unacceptable heart and blood vessel side effects or risks. 

“Because these are newer drugs, we don’t have the same body of research.

“It seems to be if you recognise it and treat with conventional heart medicines and reduce or interupt the dose of the targeted therapy, even temporarily, you can have a reversal of the effects.

“What we don’t want is for people to be in the position where they have irreversible problems with their heart.

“It’s about giving patients access to these drugs for as long as possible and as safely as possible.

“This means that we need to be really focused on making sure that patients don’t swap a cancer diagnosis for heart and blood vessel complications.”

The study will run over the next three years and will involve regular scanning and monitoring of cancer patients before, during and after treatment.

Dr Lang said: “Our research should help doctors to predict which patients are more likely to be affected and to develop better ways of preventing or treating them.”

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