Targeted therapies (biological therapies)

Targeted therapies are also known as biological therapies. They are used to treat several different cancers. Some targeted therapy drugs can affect the heart.

Trastuzumab (Herceptin®) is given to women to reduce the risk of HER2 positive breast cancer coming back. It is also used to treat advanced HER2 positive breast cancer. Trastuzumab can weaken the heart muscle in some women. The risk of heart problems is greater if a woman is overweight. There may not be any symptoms but some people may get breathless, have chest discomfort and fatigue.

You will have tests to check your heart function before treatment with trastuzumab. You will also have regular checks during treatment. If your heart function changes, your treatment might be temporarily stopped.

There are other targeted therapies that are used to treat different types of cancer. Some of them can affect the heart or cause high blood pressure.

Your doctor will let you know if the treatment you are having might cause problems with your heart.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapy drugs (also called biological therapies) are used to treat many different cancers. Some of these drugs can affect the heart.

Different drugs can cause different heart problems. Some may cause high blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms. Others can cause symptoms of angina or heart failure.

If you want to know more about a targeted therapy drug you are taking, ask your cancer doctor. They can give you information about possible effects on your heart.

Some of the most common drugs that may affect the heart include:

We have more information about targeted therapy drugs.

Researchers are still looking at the effect some newer drugs have on heart health. Your cancer doctor will talk to you about possible risks before you start any treatment. They will give you advice about any symptoms and may arrange tests to check your heart before, during and after treatment.

Other targeted therapies

Other targeted therapies can also affect the heart. They include:

  • Pertuzumab (Perjeta®) and lapatinib (Tykerb®) – These drugs are sometimes used to treat HER2 positive breast cancer. Pertuzumab may be given either with – or instead of – trastuzumab.
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin®) – This drug may be used to treat several different types of cancer, including bowel cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Sunitinib (Sutent®), sorafenib (Nexavar®) and pazopanib (Votrient®) – These drugs are given to treat kidney cancer and a rare soft tissue cancer that usually starts in the stomach or small bowel, known as a gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST).
  • Imatinib (Glivec®) and dasatinib (Sprycel®) – These drugs are given to treat different types of leukaemia and GIST.
  • Dabrafenib (Tafinlar®) and vemurafenib (Zelboraf®) – These drugs are used to treat a specific form of malignant melanoma.

These drugs work by stopping cancer cells from growing. Some stop the cancer cells developing a new blood supply.

They can cause high blood pressure in some people. Your blood pressure will be checked regularly during your treatment. Let your doctor know if you have headaches, nosebleeds or feel dizzy. A number of different drugs can be used to treat high blood pressure. See our list of heart drugs.

Sunitinib, sorafenib and pazopanib can occasionally cause problems with the blood supply to the heart. If you have chest pain or breathlessness during your treatment, contact your doctor immediately.

Some other targeted therapies can also affect the heart. Your doctor can let you know if the type of treatment you are having is likely to cause problems.

Working together to create information for you

We worked with British Heart Foundation to write our content on heart health.

Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.

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Back to Cancer treatment and your heart


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Hormonal therapies

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Surgery for cancer

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Cancer research trials

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