Anthracyclines are very effective chemotherapeutic agents that are widely used to treat pediatric and adult cancer patients. Unfortunately, the clinical utility of anthracyclines is limited by cardiotoxicity. There are several established risk factors for anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity (AIC), including total cumulative dose, very young and very old age, concomitant use of other cardiotoxic agents, and concurrent mediastinal radiation. However, the role of sex as a risk factor for AIC is not well defined. In pediatric cancer patients, most studies support the notion that female sex is a significant risk factor for AIC. Conversely, there is anecdotal evidence that female sex protects against AIC in adult cancer patients. The lack of consistency in study designs and the different definitions of cardiotoxicity preclude reaching consensus regarding the role of sex as a risk factor for AIC in both pediatric and adult cancer patients. Therefore, more clinical research using reliable techniques such as cardiac magnetic resonance imaging is needed to determine if there truly are sex differences in AIC. In adult preclinical rodent studies, however, there is unequivocal evidence that female sex confers significant protection against AIC, with a possible protective effect of female sex hormones and/or a detrimental role of the male sex hormones. Although findings of these rodent studies may not perfectly mirror the clinical scenario in adult anthracycline-treated cancer patients, understanding the mechanisms of this significant sexual dimorphism may reveal important cardioprotective mechanisms that can be therapeutically targeted.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work has been supported by a grant from the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research [508200 to. B.N.Z.]. B.N.Z. is a Masonic Cancer Center Women’s Health Scholar, sponsored by the Masonic Cancer Center, a comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, and administered by the University of Minnesota Women’s Health Research Program. C.S. is funded by NIH-NHLBI grant number 5K23-HL132011.