Cancer Pharmacotherapy

Cancer medication has an impact on the whole body, i.e. it is systemic pharmacotherapy. We always plant cancer pharmacotherapy individually with the patient according to the cancer type and spread, keeping in mind the overall condition of the patient.

At the moment, cancer medication is the most central area of medication development, and new medication differs from the old by its impact mechanism. Just 10–20 years ago, cancer medication consisted mainly of traditional cytostatics. Cancer medication introduced in the last ten years mainly comprises targeted drugs and immunologic drugs.

Much cancer medication research is conducted at Tays, which enables Tays patients to receive new cancer medication for use at an early stage. Read more about cancer medication research here.

The objective of cancer pharmacotherapy is to

  • cure cancer using cancer pharmacotherapy, for example in the case of testicular cancer and lymphomas
  • prevent the recurrence of cancer as a post-operative treatment, i.e. as adjuvant therapy, for example after breast cancer or intestinal cancer surgery
  • relieve symptoms caused by cancer and extend life expectancy in the treatment of advanced cancer.

Cancer pharmacotherapy can be divided into four different groups according to the medication impact mechanism: cytostatics, hormonal therapies, targeted drugs and immunologic drugs.

Cytostatics

Cytostatic drugs, i.e. cytostatics, have an effect by preventing the division of all cells, which often leads to the death of cancer cells. Cancer cells are particularly sensitive to cytostatics, because they divide faster than normal cells. 

The sensitivity of tumours to cytostatics varies according to the cancer origin tissue and cell type. Testicular cancer and lymphomas are particularly sensitive to cytostatics. Sometimes, in the case of these cancer types, cytostatic therapy is provided in larger doses as so-called high-dose treatment supported with stem cell transfer in order to improve treatment results.

Cancer treatment makes use of several cytostatics with different effects, either alone or as a combination of several different cytostatic drugs. Cytostatics are usually administered intravenously or orally as tablets. In some cases, they can be administered locally, for example, into the spinal canal or urinary bladder. The implementation of all cytostatic therapies requires careful and regular monitoring of the patient’s condition and blood count.

Because the impact of cytostatics targets all dividing cells of the body, side effects for healthy tissue are usually unavoidable. However, the healthy cells of the body recover faster. The most common side effects include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, problems with bowel movement, interferences in the sense of taste and a decline in overall Immunity.

Today, many of these side effects can be prevented and treated better than before. For example, the new nausea prevention drugs efficiently prevent treatment-related nausea and growth substances, which stimulate the functioning of the bone marrow, and can be used to reduce the risk of inflammation.

Hormonal therapies

In some cancer types, the cancer cells utilise the body’s own hormones to grow. The hormonal therapy of cancer aims to prevent the production of the hormone vital to the cancer in question and its effects on the body. Hormonal therapy is used, among other things, in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and uterine cancer.

Possible side effects of hormonal therapies are very different in different people. For example, medication that prevents the impact of oestrogen, i.e. female hormone, among women cause menopausal symptoms due to the shortage of the female hormone. When compared with cytostatic therapies, hormonal therapies are clearly better tolerated.

Hormonal therapy can be implemented either as tablets or injections. The therapy is usually long-term, lasting several years. In the treatment of advanced prostate cancer and breast cancer, it can continue for the rest of the patient’s life.

Targeted drugs

Targeted drugs are targeted treatments that disturb the functioning of the communication chains vital for the growth of cancer. Targeted drugs are used, among other things, in the treatment of certain blood cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphatic tissue cancer, renal cancer, liver cancer and intestinal cancer types. Targeted pharmacotherapy is given to patients whose tumour samples feature the specific gene mutation and who are therefore expected to benefit from the treatment.

The side effects of targeted drugs are usually fairly minor in comparison to cytostatic therapies. Often, the antibodies of targeted drugs are combined with cytostatic therapies. In such cases, the treatment causes side effects brought about by the cytostatics.

Immunologic drugs

Immunologic drugs aim to boost the immune system of the body and so cause the body’s own immune defence system to attack the cancer cells. The treatment of melanoma was the first to benefit from the immunological treatments.

The disadvantage of treatments based on immune defence is that, once you interfere with the body’s defence mechanisms, the body may also attack its own tissue and cause autoimmune diseases and severe inflammation. In immunological treatments, it is important to monitor the possible side effects and to begin their treatment quickly. Otherwise, the disadvantages of the immunological treatments are clearly more minor than those of cytostatic therapies.