Treatment with three relatively new cancer drugs may be linked to a slightly increased risk of death, a recent analysis suggests.

While the risk is low, it should be taken into account by doctors and patients, according to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists and colleagues.

The investigators analyzed the findings of 10 clinical trials that included nearly 4,700 patients treated with sorafenib (Nexavar) for kidney and liver cancer, sunitinib (Sutent) for kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumor or pazopanib (Votrient) for kidney cancer.

These so-called "targeted" drugs are used to stop the growth or spread of cancer by blocking the vascular endothelial growth factor tyrosine kinase receptors in cancer cells, the researchers explained in a Dana-Farber news release.

The analysis of the clinical trials revealed that the incidence of fatal complications was 1.5% in patients who received any of the three drugs, compared with 0.7% in patients who received standard treatments or placebos.

Bleeding, heart attack and heart failure were the most common fatal side effects noted in the clinical trials. In addition, liver failure was also reported, according to the report published in Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"There is no doubt for the average patient, these drugs have benefits and are (US Food and Drug Administration)-approved for these indications," said study leader Toni Choueiri, MD, assistant professor, department of medicine, Harvard Medical School. "While the absolute incidence of these fatal side effects is very small, the relative risks are higher and patients and practitioners need to be aware of it."

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