Lung Cancer Drugs

Learn about your cancer drugs.

This review of lung cancer drugs and lung cancer treatment was prepared a couple of years ago. There is no doubt that life has moved on, but much of this article is still relevant, so we have left it up on site for the time being. 

You can access the latest details on any drug by clicking here.

Lung Cancer Drugs and Chemotherapy

There are so many drugs on the market for lung cancer treatment. By and large they are becoming more targeted for purpose, with less destruction of healthy tissue
The main types used to treat lung cancer are:

Carboplatin: is a long standing drug. It is a colourless liquid, usually given through a drip. It is not without side effects and can destroy your fertility, affect blood clotting, weaken your immune system, cause anaemia, diarrhoea, fatigue, loss of appetite, tingling/numbing of feet/hands/nerves etc. (It is also used for ovarian cancer treatment). A lot of recent research has been concerned with hearing impairment amongst users.
Cisplatin is similar in all respects to carboplatin. It is a general chemotherapy drug also used for stomach, oesophagael, ovarian, testicular and bladder cancers.
Gemcitabine is a white powder which is then made up into a colourless liquid, and most often used to treat non-small cell lung cancer. Another ’general’ drug it is also used in the treatment of breast, pancreatic and bladder cancer. Its brand name is Gemzar and it does seem to have less side effects than the first two. It can prompt anaemia and fatigue, or a weakened immune system. You may well get mouth ulcers, and a rash on your skin and it can affect your liver and your kidneys, even resulting in blood in the urine.
Vinorelbine is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer and is available as 20 mg or 30 mg capsules which can be swallowed with cold water, or as a colourless liquid which is given through a drip.Apart from the general side effects of most drugs (possible anaemia, fatigue, constipation, diarrhoea, feeling sick, tingling nerves and numbness in hands or feet; and even loss of fertility) of particular concern is its ability to cause ’leaking veins’. You may also have hair loss and an allergic reaction in which case you should report this to your doctor immediately. The drug is also used to treat breast cancer.
Docetaxel (also called Taxotere) is a yellow/brown concentrate which becomes colourless when diluted to the right concentration for use. It is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer (and also breast and prostate cancers). You may experience the more general side effects listed above. But Taxotere is also linked to fluid retention and pains in the joints. You may also experience a change in the colour of your nails and allergic reactions and rashes.
Taxol (or Paclitaxel) is another colourless liquid administered by drip. It may produce the usual side effects, plus low blood pressure, changes to heart rate and liver problems. You may experience stomach pains. It is currently used for non-small cell lung cancer, ovarian and breast cancer.
Iressa (gefitinib) and drugs such as Gleevac and Tarceva are part of a relatively new class of drugs. Unlike standard chemotherapy drugs, this new class specifically targets a gene in tumors called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). This receptor helps tumors grow and spread, and these drugs block this receptor. However only 10 per cent of patients who take the drug improve although those improvements can be really significant. This has prompted the US FDA to question whether it should remain on the market. ’Why does it work so well, but only for the few?’ is the crucial question. Now two groups of researchers working independently at Harvard hospitals have discovered that people who respond to Iressa have common mutations in their tumors whereas people without the mutations do not respond to the drug. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug a year ago for patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. Next stop is to develop a test to understand those patients who might best respond those with the all-important gene. Side effects are very particular to the individual and are not insignificant.
NB. Drugs are often used in combinations, and with other drugs , not always have there been stringent clinical trial on these combinations and so you should ask about the specific combination you are being offered. It is also absolutely imperative that you tell your oncologist if you are taking any other drugs for other ailments.

More information on these drugs may be found under the Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer   sections.

Other articles of interest:

Building an Integrated Therapy Programme -click here

Beware of taking too many drugs -Polypharmacy -click here

Learn about your cancer drugs.
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