Chemotherapy Drugs A - Z
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Cancer drugs, also
called chemotherapy drugs, are part of conventional cancer treatment options. Those drugs are taken to treat
various types of cancers. But before going further let’s explain the nature of cancer. The disease is a
life-threatening medical condition characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells (also known as
malignant cells). The malignant cells can remain in the original site or spread to other parts of the body
through the blood and lymphatic system to form other types of malignant tumors; this is called metastatic
cancer. Depending on the organs affected, cancers are divided in many categories such as carcinoma, sarcoma,
leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma as well as cancers of the central nervous system.
these categories include cancers diagnosed with the greatest frequency: lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer (colon and rectal cancers), skin cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and others. According to the National Cancer Institute, “the most
common type of cancer on the list is prostate cancer, with more than 240,000 new cases expected in the United
States in 2012. The cancer on the list with the lowest incidence is pancreatic cancer, with 43,920 new cases
expected in 2012”.
cancers are difficult to be treated, mesothelioma for instance. However, regardless of the
cancer you have your chance to survive or heal increase if the cancer is diagnosed in its early stage. Among
various treatment options for cancer (radiation therapy, surgical therapies and others), let’s
consider chemotherapy drugs. First of all, how does chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the most common cancer treatment method; it is used to treat different types of cancer. The chemo
drugs travel through the organism to kill malignant cells or prevent the growth of cancer cells. These days, there
is a variety of chemotherapy drugs which are also known as anticancer drugs or
simply ‘cancer drugs’. Depending on the nature of chemotherapeutic agents, they can be
called alkylating agents, Anti-metabolites, Plant alkaloids and terpenoids, Topoisomerase inhibitors, and
cytotoxic antibiotics. The drugs can be administered intravenously, taken orally in the form of a pill or
injected into the body cavity. But chemotherapy drugs are most of the times taken intravenously. A complete
therapy is taken in cycles. Each cycle is administered every 1 to 4 weeks followed by a rest period before
starting a new chemo cycle. This period of rest is important given this is a very strong treatment.
To increase the curative effects of the drugs, a combination of two or more chemo drugs may be given at a
time. The medications can be taken before or after the surgery.
Chemotherapy given before surgery is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy; the therapy aims at shrinking the size of the
tumor to allow the surgical removal. Chemotherapy given after the
surgery is known as adjuvant chemotherapy; in this case the therapy focuses on killing the cancer cells left after
the surgery to prevent relapse. In certain circumstance, chemotherapy is combined with radiotherapy, biological
therapy or surgical therapy (surgery). Chemotherapy could be the best cancer treatment ever if the drugs would not
kill both cancer cells and normal cells which multiply rapidly - cells in the blood, intestinal tract, nails, hair,
mouth and vagina - leading to serious adverse effects. In fact, some chemotherapy drugs affect the cells in the
lungs, heart, bladder, kidneys as well as the nervous system. This can
lead to even more serious side effects.
radiation therapy and surgical therapy which are local treatment, chemotherapy is a systemic cancer treatment
that affects the entire body. Its systematic characteristic makes it capable of causing side effects anywhere in
the body. That’s why cancer patients tend to complain of various chemo adverse effects.
severity of chemotherapy side effects depends upon the type of drugs administered and the patient's health. The
side effects can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) or permanent. Some common side effects of
chemotherapy are constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss and certain blood-related symptoms
such as anemia. In addition, chemotherapy agents can cause intestinal problems, loss of appetite,
weight loss, nerve and muscle problems, sore mouth and
gums, sore throat, dry and discolored skin, kidney and bladder damage, as well as sexuality and fertility
issues. Stress and depression are also common among cancer patients. See
Chemotherapy Side Effects for more details.
American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures
2012. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2012. Also available online (PDF - 1,700 KB). Last accessed January 6, 2012.