Antineoplastic agents are a group of specialized drugs used primarily to treat cancer (the term "neoplastic" refers to cancer cells).
The first antineoplastic agents, used in the 1940s, were made from either synthetic chemicals or natural plants. Antineoplastic agents are classified by origin and by how they work to destroy cancer cells. There are over fifty of these agents approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used in the United States. These include: methotrexate , fluorouracil, doxorubicin , paclitaxel , and cyclophosphamide .
Antineoplastic agents can be administered to patients alone or in combination with other antineoplastic drugs. They can also be given before, during or after a patient receives surgery or radiation therapy . The treatment plan is disease-specific. It is important that patients receive treatment on schedule.
Antineoplastic agents travel the body and destroy cancer cells. Side effects are expected to occur when treated with these agents, and can include nausea, mouth sores, hair loss, and lowering of the blood counts. Many of the side effects associated with antineoplastic agents occur because chemotherapy treatment destroys the body's normal cells in addition to cancerous cells. Healthcare providers should be able to assist patients in managing these side effects so that antineoplastic therapy is a tolerable treatment.
Nancy J. Beaulieu, RPh., BCOP