Antineoplastic drugs are used for the treatment of tumors. For this reason they are also called anti-cancerous medications. There are different types, classified according to their mechanism of action as well as their chemical structure. Among the most common are included:


  • The alkylating agents: change DNA to prevent the proliferation of cancer cells. They are used in the treatment of various cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, sarcomas and cancers of the lungs, breasts and ovaries.


  • The antimetabolites: interfere with the synthesis of DNA and RNA molecules acting in the place normally used for their production. They are used for example for the treatment of leukemia, cancer of the breasts, cancer of the ovaries and cancer of the intestinal tract.


  • The antitumor antibiotics: among the most used are included anthracyclines, molecules that interfere with enzymes needed for DNA synthesis. Other anticancer antibiotics are actinomycin D, bleomycin and mitomycin. They are used to treat many different types of cancer.


  • The inhibitors of topoisomerase: interfere with the activity of some enzymes involved in DNA replication, topoisomerase I and II. Among the cancers against which they are used are included types of leukemia and cancers of the lungs, ovaries, and gastrointestinal cancers.


  • Antimitotic medications: act by inhibiting cell reproduction and are used to treat several types of cancers, such as those of the breasts, lungs, myelomas, lymphomas and forms of leukemia.


  • The corticosteroids: hormonal drugs that kill cancer cells or reduce its growth. They are also used to prevent nausea and vomiting and may be associated with chemotherapy or any allergic reactions to chemotherapy.


  • The drugs that specifically attack tumor cells (so-called "targeted therapies"), such as the imanitinib, gefitinib and bortezomib. In most cases they act on the effect produced by genetic mutations associated with tumors. They can be used as part of the main cancer treatment or after treatment to maintain remission and prevent relapse.


  • The differentiating agents: they act on the cancer cells to make them "normal."


  • The hormones: they are used to slow the growth of breast, prostate and endometrium cancers, the development of which is normally controlled by hormones produced by the body. They act by preventing the tumor to use the hormones produced by the body by preventing the synthesis of the latter.
  • The drugs that stimulate the immune system because they recognize and attack cancer cells: they are used in so-called immunotherapy.


How should antineoplastic drugs be taken?


The antineoplastics can be taken orally (in the form of capsules or tablets), intravenously (through injections, drip infusions or pumps), intramuscularly (into the thigh or in the buttocks), subcutaneously, arterialy, intrathecally (into the cerebrospinal fluid) or intracavitary (ie, in a natural body cavity such as the bladder, the chest or abdomen).


Contraindications and warnings associated with the use of anticancer medications


Contraindications of cancer treatments vary greatly from patient to patient, depending on the type of treatment. In general, over the years the adverse effects of these drugs have decreased due to advances in knowledge and the development of methods to control them. Among the most common side effects are:


  • Tiredness
  • Digestive problems (such as nausea, vomiting, taste disturbances, loss of appetite, diarrhea or constipation)
  • Increased risk of infections, anemia and bleeding
  • Hair loss
  • Skin and nails problems
  • Neuropathies
  • Hearing problems
  • Damage to other organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys