Childhood cancer survivors are at higher risk of developing heart disease than the general population, but a study published in brings good news. Testing for carnitine deficiency could prevent the development of congestive heart failure.

Childhood cancer is the second most common cause of death in children between one and 14 in the US. Leukemia is one of the most common of these cancers of children.

Some cancers, including leukemias, are treated by anthracyclines. Anthracyclines work by slowing or even stopping the growth of cancer cells.

They are extremely effective at treating the cancer, but have serious side effects. The most serious side effect is cardiotoxicity, which means the drugs damage the heart. Anthraclyclines could make the heart weaker, leading to less efficient pumping and circulation. This is known as congestive heart failure.

Researchers (Armenian SH, Gelehrter SK, et al) with Population Sciences, City of Hope, sought to investigate the link between anthracyclines and cardiac dysfunction, and if congestive heart failure could be prevented.

Study finds link between carnitine deficiency and heart failure in cancer survivors

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev on April 9, 2014, analyzed the hearts and blood plasma of 150 childhood cancer survivors who had previous been treated with anthracyclines.

Their hearts were tested with echocardiograms (ECG). 23% of the study participants had cardiac dysfunction.

When testing the blood plasma levels, which included testing levels of amino acids, the researchers discovered that the participants with cardiac dysfunction had significantly lower plasma carnitine levels.

The researchers concluded discovering this link to carnitine deficiency could lead to prevention, as a carnitine deficiency can be treated before and during anthracycline administration.

Additionally, testing for low levels of carnitine could become part of the screening process for low for patients at high risk of developing heart failure.

Sources: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24718281