Various types of anticancer medications kill cancer cells in different ways. The type of drug your doctor chooses to treat you can depend on your age, the type and stage of disease, your response to previous treatments and other factors.
Some blood cancers are treated effectively with a single drug. However, many conventional and investigational drug therapies combine drugs that attack cancer cells at different points in their growth cycles. This approach often makes therapy more effective and reduces the chance that the cancer cells will become resistant to a particular drug. As a result, more patients are achieving long-term remissions or cures.
Sometimes cancer cells may be resistant to the initial drugs used or can become resistant to the drugs after a period. In this case, your doctor may prescribe different drugs to target and kill the cancerous cells.
For information about specific drugs, visit Drug Listings.
- Antitumor Antibiotics
- Asparagine-Specific Enzymes
- DNA-Damaging Agents (Antineoplastics) and Alkylating Agents
- DNA-Repair Enzyme Inhibitors
- Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
- Hormones (Corticosteroids)
- Hypomethylating (Demethylating) Agents
- Janus-Associated Kinase (JAK) Inhibitors
- Monoclonal Antibodies
- Phosphoinositide 3-kinase inhibitors (PI3K inhibitors)
- Proteasome Inhibitors
- Selective Inhibitors of Nuclear Export (SINE)
- Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors
Antimetabolites mimic the building blocks of DNA or RNA that cancer cells need to survive and grow. When the cancer cell uses an antimetabolite instead of the natural substances, it can't produce normal DNA or RNA and the cell dies.
Bisphosphonates are used to treat high levels of calcium in the blood caused by certain cancers, including myeloma. Bisphosphonates won't slow or stop the spread of cancer, but they can slow bone breakdown, increase bone thickness and reduce bone pain and fracture risk.
Click here to read about chemotherapy.
DNA-Repair Enzyme Inhibitors
DNA-repair enzyme inhibitors attack the cancer cell proteins (enzymes) that normally repair damage to DNA. DNA repair is a normal and vital process within the cell. Without this repair process, the cancer cell is much more susceptible to damage and cannot grow.
Certain hormones (corticosteroids) can kill lymphocytes. They're believed to work by blocking cell metabolism through their effect on specific genes. In high doses, these synthetic hormones — relatives of the natural hormone cortisol — can kill malignant lymphocytes.
Hypomethylating (Demethylating) Agents
Hypomethylating (demethylating) agents interfere with cancer cell duplication by slowing or reversing hypermethylation. Methylation is a critical part of cell growth and replication. This process sometimes speeds up in cancer cells.
Janus-Associated Kinase (JAK) Inhibitors
JAK inhibitors block the enzymes JAK1, JAK2, JAK3 and tyrosine kinase 2, which play a role in the cell-signaling process that leads to the inflammatory and immune responses seen in certain diseases. JAK inhibitors interrupt the signaling pathway.
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced proteins that target specific antigens on the cancer cell's surface to interfere with the cell's function and destroy it. Some monoclonal antibodies are combined with a toxin or radioactive substance.
Phosphoinositide 3-kinase inhibitors (PI3K inhibitors)
PI3K (phospho inositide 3 kinases) inhibitors are a group of closely related kinase proteins. They act like switches in the cell – turning on other proteins. Switching on PI3Ks may make cells grow and multiply, or trigger the development of blood vessels, or help cells to move around. In some cancers PI3K is permanently switched on, which means that the cancer cells grow uncontrollably. Researchers are developing new treatments that block (inhibit) PI3K. They hope this will stop the cancer cells growing and make them die.
Proteasome inhibitors are designed to limit the effects of a cell structure called a proteasome. When a proteasome doesn't function properly, the cell dies. Cancer cells may be more susceptible to the effects of proteasome inhibition than normal cells.
Compounds that block the export of tumor suppressor proteins so that they stay in the nucleus and stop tumor growth, leading to cell death.
To read about specific drugs, visit Drug Listings.