Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals called cytotoxic drugs to treat cancer. It is primarily used to treat cancerous cells in the body and shrink tumors before surgery. In the simplest sense, some chemotherapeutic drugs work by impairing cell division or mitosis. The fast dividing cancer cells are primarily targeted and damaged, making them cytotoxic, or dead. Other chemotherapeutic drugs work by causing cells to undergo apoptosis, which is similar to cell self-destruction. While chemotherapy is an effective tool in shrinking tumors and slowing the spread of cancerous cells, scientists have unfortunately not been able to target malignant cells specifically, meaning that other fast-dividing cells, such as the cells responsible for hair growth are also effected. While some chemotherapy drugs have more distressing side effects than others, doctors are able to suit patients with the most effective treatment options for their specific needs.
Chemotherapy drugs are the most effective on “new” tumors, because these tumors still have the mechanisms regulating cell growth preserved. However, as the tumors grow and become more dense they are less responsive to chemotherapy, as the drugs cannot penetrate the tumor, and cell division has ceased making them immune to chemotherapy. Because of this, Chemotherapy is oftentimes used in conjunction with other medications and other forms of treatment for the best results. When chemotherapy is combined with either surgery or radiation there is an increased success rate in slowing or ceasing the spread of the cancer throughout the body. However, because of the harsh nature of chemotherapy it is not always the best course of treatment for those patients who are in the late stages of mesothelioma, and doctors should consider the overall health and survival time for any patient about to undergo treatment for mesothelioma.
Today, newer drugs on the market have fewer side effects and are less harmful to the body when undergoing treatment. Additionally, combining drugs can have a strong effect on reducing the toxic effects. More information regarding new chemotherapy drugs and studies is available at your request.
Drugs currently in use include:
Alimta – manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company Pharmaceuticals. Alimta is a newly FDA approved drug that significantly increases the length of survival in patients. It can alleviate significant symptoms associated with mesothelioma.
Carboplatin – used most commonly for lung and ovarian cancers. It has also been used to treat pleural mesothelioma.
Cisplatin – also known as a platinum-containing compound. It is injected into the body via intravenous injection to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. This treatment can be used in combination with Alimta and together have a stronger effect.
Gemcitabine – part of the group of drugs known as anti-metabolites. It is used in the treatment of lung, bladder, breast, pancreatic cancer and malignant mesothelioma.
Navelbine – has been used traditionally for many different cancers, including breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.
Onconase – currently in clinical trials. It is manufactured by Alfacell Corporation and is apparently a potential treatment option for patients with inoperable malignant mesothelioma.