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Side Effect Revealed: Heart risk found in leukemia drug

Since its introduction a few years ago, the cancer drug imatinib has given patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia an unprecedented chance at long-term survival. But studies of the drug in people and mice reveal an unexpected risk of heart failure lurking beneath imatinib's benefits.

A research team led by Thomas Force of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia evaluated 10 patients who suffered moderate-to-severe heart failure while taking imatinib, which is marketed as Gleevec by the drug company Novartis. In all 10 patients, none of whom had had previous heart problems, their heart's blood-pumping efficiency decreased after 1 to 14 months on the drug. When the researchers examined heart tissue from two of the patients, they found cell abnormalities characteristic of heart damage.

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