Antineoplastic agents are basically drugs used in cancer treatment. They are specially designed chemotherapy agents that can attack the rapidly proliferating cancerous cells. These medications basically help control the growth of the cancerous cells. However, like other drugs used for cancer treatment, these medications can also cause a few side effects.
Antineoplastic agents are drugs used in cancer treatment that can inhibit the growth and the development of a neoplasm, or the abnormal mass of tissues. A neoplasm can be benign or malignant. Antineoplastic drugs are specifically used to destroy or inhibit the growth of neoplasms.
They are either used alone or along with other drugs and radiation therapy. These chemotherapy agents were first used in 1940. Presently, there are about 50 antineoplastic agents that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. Drugs like methotrexate, doxorubicin, paclitaxel, fluorouracil, and cyclophosphamide are some common antineoplastic drugs used for cancer treatment.
Antineoplastic Agent Dangers
These chemotherapy agents can attack the healthy cells of the body, while destroying the abnormal cancerous cells. To be more specific, many of these agents cannot properly distinguish between cancerous or malignant cells, and the benign and healthy cells of the body. Any cell or tissue dividing constantly can get affected by antineoplastic agents, as they are cytotoxic in nature.
However, it has been observed that the cells of the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, and the hair follicles are more commonly affected by these drugs. As a result, people receiving these drugs are more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems. The most common side effects of these drugs are, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, which can occur immediately or a few days after their administration.
As the bone marrow cells can also get affected by these drugs, they can eventually reduce the count of blood cells in the body. Myelosuppression can result due to a reduced production of blood cells by the bone marrow. This can eventually lead to many other complications, like leukopenia (low white blood cells count), anemia, and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). When the number of white blood cells decreases in the body, the risk of infections increases. On the other hand, an abnormally low count of platelets can affect the process of blood clotting or blood coagulation. This in turn, can increase the risk of bleeding or hemorrhage.
Apart from these, suppression of the immune system is another major side effect associated with these drugs. Another common side effect is hair loss, as the cells of the hair follicles are also commonly affected by these drugs. Sometimes, one can experience an allergic reaction following the antineoplastic therapy. An allergic reaction to any of these drugs can lead to a life-threatening condition, known as anaphylaxis at times. Other side effects of these drugs are, fatigue, headaches, and water retention. The long-term use of these drugs can damage some vital organs, like the heart, kidneys, liver, and the lungs.
Apart from the cancer patients receiving antineoplastic agents, nurses, hospital technicians, as well as pharmacists handling these drugs may experience the aforementioned side effects due to long-term exposure. These agents are considered cytotoxins, mutagens, and carcinogens, and hence, their proper handling is important to reduce occupational exposure. Therefore, it is important to wear gloves, and take every possible precaution, while storing and handling these drugs, in order to minimize the risk associated with occupational exposure.