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Understanding the Differences between Chemotherapy Drug Types

The medical community has developed various methods to treat the many forms of cancer. A typical way involves surgery or the removal of portions of organs that have been infected with cancer cells. Depending on the nature of the disease, surgeons can take an invasive approach by using scalpels, needles, and forceps. If a minimally invasive procedure is preferred, they can choose cryotherapy or different kinds of ablation that rely on focused ultrasound, radiofrequency, or interstitial lasers.

The other way cancer is treated is through chemotherapy. Here,several drugs are administered to a patient to kill infected cells or prevent them from multiplying and spreading to other parts of the body. Such medications can be taken orally or injected into a vein or under the skin so they can enter the bloodstream. But what are the types of drugs used in this process,and how do they function? Detailed discussions can be found in oncology CME courses, but here’s a guide on the most basic ones:


In layman’s terms, cancer is a medical condition where thecells grow and divideat a rapidly abnormal rate. If you’re able to stop or slow down this process, you can treat it successfully. This is where antimetabolites come in. These drugs interfere with a cell’s normal growth cycle by replacing key enzymes in its DNA. They trick the cell into consuming itself until it’s eliminated.

Plant Alkaloids

Another chemotherapy drug is plant alkaloids. Fourof these organic compounds are available for clinical use: vinorelbine, vinblastine, vindesine, and vincristine. They bind to a protein found in cells called tubulinand tamper with its chemical composition. Without tubulin, cancer cells can’t successfully divide, leading to their death through aprocess calledapoptosis.For more information about which plants these drugs are derived from, you can refer to oncology CE courses.

Antitumor Antibiotics

The main drawback of the twoprevious medications is that they’re only effective at specific times during a cell’s growth cycle. Antitumor antibiotics aren’t like that. These drugs uncoil the DNA strands of cancer cells so they can’t reproduce. This process can happen before, during, or after a cell splits into two. Common examples include bleomycin, mitoxantrone, and doxorubicin.

Alkylating Agents

Another type of drug that isn’t dependent on the cell growth cycle is alkylating agents. This medication was used during the earliest chemotherapy treatments, which were performed in the 1940s. Alkylating agents attack cancer cells by incorrectly linking their DNA strands as they form a double-helix structure. This causes the cells to break down since they can’t multiplyproperly.

These are only fourof the most common chemotherapy drugs used in modern medicine. There are many others, including kinase inhibitors, steroids, anthracyclines, topoisomerase inhibitors, and retinoids. If you want a more detailed discussion of these treatments, you’re highly encouraged to take various oncology CME courses online.

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