Antineoplastic agents represent a group of medications used with patients suffering from cancer. They are specially designed chemotherapeutics highly effective against cancer cells. Antineoplastic agents can cause death of rapidly proliferating tumor cells. On the other hand, they may also affect rapidly proliferating healthy cells of the body and cause transient or even permanent damage to certain tissues.
In spite of being toxic antineoplastic agents are always administered in the dose that is effective against cancer cells and does not cause serious and permanent damage to the rest of the body.
More on Antineoplastic Agents
Antineoplastic agents are classified into several groups. They include alkylating agents, antimetabolites, antimitotics, topoisomerase II inhibitors and generating free radicals. These classes of drugs act differently and their mutual goal is cessation of further multiplication of cancer cells and cancer cell destruction. Some of these drugs are used as a single therapy or they can be combined. Furthermore, there is even a chance of combining certain antineoplastic agents with other types of cancer treatment such as radiation therapy.
What Are Side Effects of Antineoplastic Agents?
As it has already been mentioned apart from destruction of cancer cells antineoplastic agents can also cause damage to healthy cells. This particularly refers to rapidly dividing cells. This is why most common side effects of antineoplastic drugs originate from damage to the bone marrow and its cells, the skin (particularly hair follicles) and the inner lining of the gastrointestinal track.
Gastrointestinal side effects of antineoplastic agents vary and may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These side effects occur immediately after the particular drug or a combination of drugs has been administered or they may occur a few days after the treatment.
The bone marrow is highly susceptible to antineoplastic agents. The production of all three types of blood cells can be affected during or after the treatment with antineoplastic agents. Patients generally develop leukopenia, although it is also possible to develop anemia or thrombocytopenia. As a consequence, the chance of infections and increased susceptibility increases.
Antineoplastic agents also have negative effects on hair follicles. This is why some of them cause hair loss. Fortunately, the hair regrows after a certain period of time.
Some patients may develop allergy to certain antineoplastic agents. If this is the case the specific drug must be discontinued. Additional side effects include fatigue, headaches, water retention etc. Prolonged and repeated administration of antineoplastic agents may have permanent negative effects on vital organs such as heart, kidneys, lungs or liver. And finally, the usage of these drugs is associated with increased risk of additional malignant tumor in the future (namely these drugs posses mutagen and carcinogen characteristics).