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Lung cancer is among the worst types of cancer, and unfortunately, there are no "miracle" lung cancer drugs yet. However, some chemotherapy drugs that can fight this devastating illness have been identified. Unfortunately, some of these drugs cause undesirable side effects, such as the Taxotere hair loss that occurs with the use of docetaxel for lung cancer.
The lung cancer drugs that are used to treat a patient depend on the type of lung cancer. Lung cancers can be divided into two main groups: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is less common, accounting for some 20% of cases. Non-small cell lung cancer is a catch-all term for several types of lung cancer that have similar treatment. (LungCancer.org)
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Small Cell Lung Cancer Drugs
Small cell lung cancer treatment drugs start with standard chemotherapy, with 70% to 90% of cases responding (Azim & Ganti 2007). Unfortunately, this cancer has a high likelihood of recurrence, and the majority of patients will find their cancer returning. Much of the research into small cell lung cancer drugs is focused on treatment of recurring cancer.
Hycamptin (topotecan) is an FDA-approved drug for second-line treatment of small cell lung cancer (MacCallum & Gillenwater 2006). It is an oral chemotherapy agent classified as a topoisomerase inhibitor. Topoisomerases are enzymes that "unzip" DNA so it can replicate, and topoisomerase inhibitors therefore prevent DNA replication, stopping the spread of cancer. Other second-line small cell lung cancer drugs include Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Oncovin (vincristine) (Azim & Ganti 2007).
Other lung cancer drugs being are being investigated as second-line treatments for small cell lung cancer (MacCallum & Gillenwater 2006). Some are similar to topotecan in that they are topoisomerase inhibitors; these include Camptosar (irinotecan) and Eposin (etoposide). Others work by inhibiting cell division (mitosis), such as Navelbine (vinorelbine) and Taxol (paclitaxel). Gemzar (gemcitabine) is a nucleoside analog, replacing part of the DNA in cancer cells as they reproduce.
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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Drugs
Some of the drugs used as second-line small cell lung cancer drugs are effective as primary treatments for non-small cell lung cancer. These include Gemzar (gemcitabine), Taxol (paclitaxel), and Navelbine (vinorelbine). Taxotere (docetaxel) is used as a second-line drug for these cancers. One of the most common effects that occur with the use of this drug is Taxotere hair loss. Some of these drugs may be combined with cisplatin, a chemotherapy agent with a platinum atom at its core. Cisplatin "ties up" DNA, preventing cancer cells from replicating. (Clegg et al. 2002)
All lung cancers are terrible diseases. The available lung cancer drugs can improve survival in patients who develop this dreaded illness.
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- "Lung Cancer 101." LungCancer.org.
- Azim, H.A. Jr.; A. K. Ganti. "Treatment options for relapsed small-cell lung cancer." Anticancer Drugs 2007 Mar;18(3):255-61.
- Clegg, A.; D. A. Scott, P. Hewitson, M. Sidhu, & N. Waugh. "Clinical and cost effectiveness of paclitaxel, docetaxel, gemcitabine, and vinorelbine in non-small cell lung cancer: a systematic review." Thorax 2002 Jan;57(1):20-8.
- MacCallum, C.; H. H. Gillenwater. "Second-line treatment of small-cell lung cancer." Current Oncology Reports 2006 Jul;8(4):258-64.