There are three main classes of chemotherapy drugs:
Anthracyclines work by deforming the DNA structure of cancer cells and terminating their biological function. The drugs Adriamycin (generic name, doxorubicin) and Ellence (generic name, epirubicin) are examples of anthracyclines used to treat breast cancer.
Although anthracyclines can be very effective against breast cancer and other types of cancers, anthracyclines pose a risk of cardiotoxicity (severe heart problems). Therefore, anthracyclines typically used in limited doses. Anthracyclines commonly are used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs to help decrease the risk of cardiotoxic side effects. Also, patients receiving anthracyclines should be closely monitored for any heart problems during treatment.
Taxanes work by preventing cancer cells from dividing. The taxane class of drugs affect cellular microtubules, which are normally formed prior to cells division. Normally, once cells stop dividing, the microtubules are broken down. However, taxanes stop microtubules from breaking down, thereby “clogging” cancer cells with microtubules so they cannot divide.
Taxol (generic name, paclitaxel) and Taxotere (generic name, docetaxel) are examples of taxanes used to treat breast cancer. Taxanes are often used in combination with other chemotherapy agents.
Alkylating agents work by targeting the DNA of cancer cells, thereby preventing the cancer cells from reproducing. Alkylating agents attack cancer cells in all phases of growth. The drug Cytoxan (generic name, cyclophosphamide) is a common alkylating agent used to treat breast cancer. Cytoxan typically is used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.