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    You are here: Home > Pharmacy News | Health Articles/Tips > General > September 10, 2018

      How does chemotherapy work?

      When it comes to treating cancer, one of the most common treatments is chemotherapy. Here is a look at what exactly it is and what could be the expected outcomes. Chemotherapy works by using specific drugs to target and kill cancer cells or to prevent their growth and spread. This may be administered as chemo pills or as shots. You may have chemo drugs administered intravenously at a clinic or hospital, this is known as infusion.

      Your oncologist will prescribe chemo drugs based on type of cancer, whether you have had cancer before and if you suffer from other health issues such as kidney, diabetes, heart or liver disease. Sometimes chemo therapy is performed to shrink a tumor before surgery. Sometimes, it’s done post-surgery to destroy, control or shrink any cancer cells that remain in your body.

      How do chemotherapy drugs work?

      Each chemotherapy drug has a different mode of action.  The oldest form of chemotherapy uses alkylating agents which work by damaging the DNA of cancer cells and this prevents them from making copies of cancer cells. Cyclophosphamide, melphalan and temozolomide are a few of the drugs that fall under this category. These are prescribed for the treatment of many different types of cancer ranging from Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, sarcoma to breast, lung and ovarian cancers.

      Another key class of chemo drugs are known as antimetabolites and work by actively interfering in the normal metabolism of cells. These are usually prescribed to treat leukemia and cancer of the breasts, ovaries and intestines. Some drugs in this category are cytarabine, gemcitabine, 5-fluorouracil, 6-mercaptopurine and methotrexate.

      Anthracycline chemotherapy works by attacking the enzymes found within the DNA of cancer cells that is responsible for making them divide and grow. Daunorubicin, actinomycin-D, bleomycin and doxorubicin are some of the drugs in this class. They are prescribed to treat different kinds of cancer.

      Mitotic inhibitors work by preventing cancer cells from making more copies of these cells and also stop the body from making proteins that cancer cells need to grow.  Docetaxel, vinblastine and estramustine, are some of the mitotic inhibitors.  breast and lung cancers and types of myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma.

      Topoisomerase inhibitors are another class of chemo drugs that act by attacking enzymes that help cancer cells divide and grow. These include teniposide, irinotecan and topotecan. They are prescribed for the treatment of some kinds of leukemia besides lung cancer and cancer of the ovaries and intestines.

      Steroids comprise drugs such as prednisone, methylprednisolone and dexamethasone. These work like the body’s own hormones and can treat many types of cancer besides prevent nausea and vomiting post chemo. Besides, they will also prevent allergic reactions to some drugs.


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