Category:Cancer Drugs

From Pharmacy Drug Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

Many cancer patients will have to use cancer drugs as an essential part of their overall treatment. Cancer drugs tend to be exceptionally powerful medications whose mission is to destroy cancer cells and stop them from spreading to other parts of the body, and with this comes extremely severe and often dangerous side effects.[1]

There are many types of prescription drugs designed to combat cancer. These drugs are divided into multiple categories, depending on a number of factors.[2] The image below shows just six different cancer drugs: Clockwise from the center, they are Blenoxane® (bleomycin), Oncovin® (vincristine), DTIC-Dome® (dacarbazine), Cytoxan® (cyclophosphamide), Adriamycin® (doxorubicin), and VePesid® (etoposide).[3]


400px-Chemotherapy bottles NCI.jpg
Wikimedia Commons: National Cancer Institute
Types of cancer drugs Alkylating agents, antimetabolites, anti-tumor antibiotics, topoisomerase inhibitors, mitotic inhibitors, steroids
Most common cancers for females Breast, lung and colon cancers
Most common cancers for males Prostate, lung and colon cancers
FDA Hotline 800-332-1088
National Cancer Institute 1-800-4-CANCER
Author Selena Robinson
Disclaimer The information provided by is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Do not take any action based on the information on this page without consulting a physician.
Author Selena Robinson


About Cancer

Cells normally multiply as the body requires them, and then die when the body no longer needs them. Cancer seems to happen when the growth of certain cells in the body gets out of control, and cells mutate to divide too quickly, or don't die.

There are as many different types of cancer as there are organs and tissues in the body. Cancer can develop in virtually any area, such as the colon, lung, prostate, breast, liver, blood, skin, bones, or nerve tissue.

In the U.S., the most three most common cancers in women are:[4]

  • breast cancer
  • lung cancer
  • colon cancer

In men, they are:[5]

  • prostate cancer
  • lung cancer
  • colon cancer

In the U.S., the most common forms of cancer among children and adolescents are:[6]

  • leukemias
  • brain and central nervous system tumors

Types of Cancer Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs are divided into groups based on how they function, their chemical makeup, and their relationship to other drugs. Some are grouped together because they were derived from the same plant. Some drugs may belong to more than one group.

Alkylating agents

Alkylating agents specifically damage cancer-cell DNA to prevent cells from reproducing. These drugs work in all phases of the cell cycle. Alkylating agents treat many different cancers, including Hodgkin disease, chronic leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, sarcoma, and cancers of the breasts, lungs, and ovaries. The risk of contracting leukemia as a side effect of treatment with alkylating agents is highest 5 to 10 years after treatment.

Some of the types of alkylating agents include:

  • Nitrogen mustards: such as mechlorethamine (nitrogen mustard), chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®), ifosfamide, and melphalan
  • Nitrosoureas: which include streptozocin, carmustine (BCNU), and lomustine
  • Alkyl sulfonates: busulfan
  • Triazines: dacarbazine (DTIC), and temozolomide (Temodar®)
  • Ethylenimines: thiotepa and altretamine (hexamethylmelamine)
  • Platinum drugs (cisplatin, carboplatin, and oxalaplatin) are sometimes grouped with alkylating agents because they kill cells in a similar way. These drugs are less likely than the alkylating agents to cause leukemia.[2]


Antimetabolites interfere with DNA and RNA growth by substituting for the usual building blocks of RNA and DNA. These drugs damage cells and usually treat leukemias, tumors of the intestinal tract, ovaries breasts, and other cancers. Examples of antimetabolites include 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), capecitabine (Xeloda®), 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP), methotrexate, gemcitabine (Gemzar®), cytarabine (Ara-C), fludarabine, and pemetrexed (Alimta®).[2]

Anti-Tumor Antibiotics

  • Anthracyclines, which interfere with enzymes involved in DNA replication, are anti-tumor antibiotics. They are widely used for a broad variety of cancers. However, anti-tumor antibiotics can permanently damage the heart if given in high doses, so lifetime dose limits are often placed on these drugs. Examples of anthracyclines include daunorubicin, doxorubicin (Adriamycin®), epirubicin, and idarubicin.[2]
  • Other anti-tumor antibiotics include the drugs actinomycin-D, bleomycin, and mitomycin-C.
  • Mitoxantrone is an anti-tumor antibiotic similar to doxorubicin, including the possibility for damage to the heart. Mitoxantrone treats cancers of the breasts and prostate as well as lymphoma and leukemia.[2]

Topoisomerase Inhibitors

These cancer drugs interfere with specific enzymes called topoisomerase. Topoisomerase inhibitors treat certain leukemias in addition to gastrointestinal, ovarian, lung, ovarian, and other cancers.[2]

  • Examples of topoisomerase inhibitors include:
    • topotecan
    • irinotecan (CPT-11).
    • etoposide (VP-16)
    • teniposide.
    • Mitoxantrone

Mitotic Inhibitors

Mitotic inhibitors are frequently derived from natural products and can stop cell reproduction. These drugs treat many different types of cancer including lymphomas, lung, leukemias, breast cancers, and myelomas. Examples include:[2]

    • Taxanes: paclitaxel (Taxol®)
    • docetaxel (Taxotere®)
    • Epothilones: ixabepilone (Ixempra®)
    • vinblastine (Velban®)
    • vincristine (Oncovin®)
    • vinorelbine (Navelbine®)
    • Estramustine (Emcyt®)


Steroids are naturally occurring hormones used to treat certain types of cancer, such as leukemias, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma, as well as other illnesses. Corticosteroids may minimize the nausea and vomiting often caused by chemotherapy and help prevent severe allergic reactions. Examples include:[2]

    • prednisone
    • methylprednisolone (Solumedrol®)
    • dexamethasone (Decadron®).

Miscellaneous Chemotherapy Drugs

    • L-asparaginase, an enzyme
    • bortezomib (Velcade®)

Other Types of Cancer Drugs

While chemotherapy drugs attack rapidly-dividing cancer cells, other drugs target different properties that set cancer cells apart. Since these drugs target cancer cells and spare normal ones, they often have less serious side effects. Examples include:[2]

    • imatinib (Gleevec®)
    • gefitinib (Iressa®)
    • erlotinib (Tarceva®)
    • sunitinib (Sutent®)
    • bortezomib (Velcade®)
    • Differentiating Agents

Some drugs mature cancer cells into normal cells, stopping the out-of-control proliferation. Examples include:[2]

    • retinoids
      • tretinoin (ATRA or Atralin®)
      • bexarotene (Targretin®)
    • arsenic trioxide (Arsenox®).
  • Hormone Therapy

These drugs change the action or production of female or male hormones, slowing the growth of prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers, which are related to natural hormones already present in the body. They prevent cancer cells from using the hormones needed or stop production of the hormones.[2] Examples include:[2]

    • anti-estrogens
      • fulvestrant (Faslodex®)
      • tamoxifen
      • toremifene (Fareston®)
    • aromatase inhibitors
      • anastrozole (Arimidex®)
      • exemestane (Aromasin®)
      • letrozole (Femara®)
    • progestins -- megestrol acetate (Megace®)
    • estrogens
      • anti-androgens
        • bicalutamide (Casodex®)
        • flutamide (Eulexin®)
        • nilutamde (Nilandron®)
    • gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), also known as luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH)
      • leuprolide (Lupron®)
      • goserelin (Zoladex®)
    • Immunotherapy
      • Some cancer medications stimulate the patient's own natural immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells, either by using the body's own immune system or by introducing other agents. This is a new area of research. Types of immunotherapies and some examples include:[2]
        • monoclonal antibody therapy (passive immunotherapies)
        • rituximab (Rituxan®)
        • alemtuzumab (Campath®)
      • Non-specific immunotherapies and adjuvants:
        • BCG
        • interleukin-2 (IL-2)
        • interferon-alpha
      • immunomodulating drugs
        • thalidomide
        • lenalidomide (Revlimid®)
      • cancer vaccines (active specific immunotherapies) -- in April 2010, the first vaccine to treat cancer, the Provenge vaccine for advanced prostate cancer, was approved by the FDA.[2]

Drug Side Effects

Information about possible drug side effects

Cancer Drug Precautions and Warnings

Chemotherapy drugs tend also to have very serious side effects. Adverse reactions vary by drug and category, and by the specific conditions of an individual situation. In addition, because chemotherapy drugs are often used in combination or succession, the doctors administering them have to weigh factors such as drug interactions, dose limitations, overall patient health and age.

Mitotic inhibitors may cause peripheral nerve damage. Alkylating agents can lead to leukemia over prolonged use. Anthracyclines can permanently damage the heart.[7]

Chemotherapy is intended to kill cancer cells; however, it also can damage normal cells. The normal cells most likely to be damaged are those that divide rapidly, such as bone marrow/blood cells, cells of hair follicles, cells lining the digestive tract and cells lining the reproductive tract. Inadvertent damage to these cells is responsible for many of the side effects of chemotherapy drugs.[8]



  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13
  3. Wikimedia


This category has only the following subcategory.