January 23, 2020

How Does Chemotherapy Treat Cancer?

Chemotherapy is a way to treat various types of cancer with drugs. One or more chemotherapy drugs is used to treat the cancer. Learn more about the types of chemotherapy that are used to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying.

Chemotherapy affects a patient’s entire body, so healthy cells are damaged and side effects occur. Fortunately, this damage is mostly temporary and many patients are able to recover from chemotherapy with repaired cells and no long term side effects.

Alkylating agents – directly damage DNA to prevent cancer cells from reproducing. Used to treat cancers like including acute and chronic leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, multiple myeloma, sarcoma, lung, breast, and ovarian cancer. The side effects can be long-term damage to the bone marrow, especially within 10 years after treatment. There are numerous types of alkylating agents, so the type of cancer you have will determine the treatment protocol.

Antimetabolites – interfere with both DNA and RNA, and commonly used to treat certain cases of breast cancer, leukemia, ovary and the intestines.

Anthracyclines – anti-tumor antibiotics that interfere with the enzymes involved in DNA replication. This type of chemotherapy can damage the heart with continuous use, and so they may be used in conjuction with other types of chemo to avoid permanent damage.

Mitoxantrone – an anti-tumor antibiotic that can also damage the heart after continued use. Most commonly it is used to treat prostate and breast cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia.

Topoisomerase inhibitors – these drugs help to separate strands of DNA so that they can be copied. Certain types of leukemias are treated with topoisomerase inhibitors, as well as ovarian, lung and gastrointestinal.

Mitotic inhibitors – usually plant alkaloids or other naturally-derived products. They stop mitosis and inhibit enzymes from making the proteins that are necessary for cell reproduction. They are used in a wide variety of cancers, most often breast, lung, leukemias, myelomas, and lymphomas. They may cause peripheral nerve damage, which can be controlled with a lower dose.

Corticosteroids – these are both natural and hormone-like drugs that can slow cancer growth and kill cells. They are often used to help prevent the nausea and vomiting that can be a side effect of chemotherapy, or to prevent allergic reactions.

Apart from these common chemotherapy drugs, there are many miscellaneous chemotherapy drugs and techniques that are used to treat cancer. This includes immunotherapy, a relatively newer approach where patients are given drugs to stimulate their immune system to recognize and attack cancerous cells.