There are many different types of cancer medications. These include alkylating agents, antimetabolites, and plant alkaloids.
Doctors can use cancer medications either on their own or in combination with other treatments, such as radiation therapy. The best type and combination will depend on several factors, including disease progression and the person’s overall health.
There can be
- hair loss
- difficulty breathing
Keep reading to learn more about some common cancer medications.
Doctors categorize cancer medications based on how they work in the body.
- alkylating agents
- anti-tumor antibiotics
- plant alkaloids
- miscellaneous drugs that do not fall into any of these categories
The sections below look at each of these drug types in more detail.
Some examples of alkylating agents include:
Doctors primarily use alkylating agents to treat slow-growing cancers, as they are less effective against cells that divide quickly. For example, doctors might use these medications to treat:
Alkylating agents damage DNA in cancer cells, but they may also affect bone marrow cells, which can cause leukemia.
The risk of developing leukemia is small, but it increases with larger doses of alkylating agents. The risk of developing leukemia is highest around
Nitrosoureas are a subcategory of alkylating agents that
Nitrosoureas work by attaching themselves to DNA strands in cancer cells. This prevents them from dividing.
Some examples of nitrosoureas include:
Antimetabolites work by convincing cancer cells to
Some examples of antimetabolites include:
Antimetabolites are usually effective for treating:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- head and neck cancers
- anal cancer
- stomach cancer
- colon cancer
- some skin cancers
- hair loss
- kidney damage
- liver failure
- low white blood cell count
- loss of appetite
Anti-tumor antibiotics are chemicals that interfere with enzymes that support growth in cancer cells.
Anthracyclines are a type of anti-tumor antibiotic. They bind with the DNA of
- doxorubicin liposomal
There are also several anti-tumor antibiotics that are not anthracyclines, including bleomycin, dactinomycin, and mitoxantrone.
Doctors might use anti-tumor antibiotics to treat:
This side effect is rare, but it can occur with high doses of the drug. For this reason, doctors typically limit how much of an anti-tumor antibiotic that someone can take.
These are drugs that come from plants and have
Mitotic inhibitors, for example, are a class of plant alkaloids that prevent cancer cells from replicating or stop enzymes from creating proteins to support reproduction in cancer cells. Some examples of these drugs include taxanes and vinca alkaloids.
Topoisomerase inhibitors are a class of plant alkaloids that also have different names depending on which enzyme they work on.
Topoisomerase I inhibitors, for instance,
Plant alkaloids are useful for treating several cancers, including:
- lung cancer
- ovarian cancer
- gastrointestinal cancer
- colorectal cancer
- pancreatic cancer
Some possible side effects include:
These are synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones that can reduce inflammation and treat cancer.
Some corticosteroids that are useful in cancer treatment include prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone. Their anti-inflammatory properties can reduce nausea, vomiting, and appetite problems from chemotherapy.
Some possible side effects of corticosteroids include:
Doctors may use various other drugs that work differently from those above to treat cancer.
- all-trans-retinoic acid
- arsenic trioxide
A person may want to ask a doctor some questions before beginning cancer treatment. These questions may include the following:
- What treatment options are available?
- What are the side effects of each treatment?
- Are there any long-term side effects?
- How long will treatment last?
- Which side effects require immediate medical attention?
There are also several alternative therapies for cancer. The following sections look at some of these in more detail.
Cancer cells grow, divide, and spread through the body based on instructions they receive from proteins. Targeted therapies attack those proteins and prevent them from working effectively. They can help treat cancer in many ways, depending on the type of cancer.
The body’s immune system typically seeks and kills unusual cells around the body. Doctors use
This uses high doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Doctors either use a machine to emit radiation from outside the body or place a radiation device inside the body. This option can also cause some side effects, including tiredness and skin irritation.
Doctors sometimes recommend surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. This is usually when the cancer is localized and has not spread to other areas of the body.
Cancer medications include a wide variety of drugs that use different mechanisms to fight the condition. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of medication, and doctors can advise on the best option for each individual case.
Treatment might involve cancer medications on their own or cancer medications alongside other treatment options. The duration and intensity of the treatment will depend on the severity of the cancer and the person’s overall health.