Cancer Drugs NCLEX Review

Cancer is one of the most difficult diseases to manage. Cancer can affect more than one body system at a time. Therefore, nurses need to have basic knowledge of pharmacokinetics (absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion) of chemotherapy to provide adequate client care.

Cancer Drugs NCLEX Review Practice Questions
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Table of contents

    Introduction to Cancer Drugs

    Cancer is a disease caused when cells divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues. Changes to DNA cause cancer. Cancerous cells can form a mass of tissue known as a tumor. Before the cancer is even detectable, the cells can break off of the tumor and spread to other parts of the body, where they begin to grow and multiply. This process is called metastasis.

    Treatment regimens can be quite challenging related to many factors such as age, weight, diagnosis, prognosis, and even the client’s health before the diagnosis. There are many chemotherapy, biotherapy, and immunotherapy medications that can be prescribed.

    Chemotherapy drugs are designed to help slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. They work by damaging DNA in cancer cells and killing them. However, it does not differentiate between good and bad cells. In other words, chemotherapy can kill good cells also. Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells, creating the majority of side effects experienced with the medication.

    Immunotherapy (Biotherapy)

    A newer type of treatment for cancer is immunotherapy (a type of biotherapy), which signals the immune system to fight off cancer cells. One such drug is Interferon.

    Interferons are substances produced by cells in the body to help fight infections and tumors. It’s typically used to treat melanoma but can also treat other cancers such as leukemia and AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. Interferon can also be used to treat hepatitis B and C.

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    Chemotherapy Drugs

    Chemotherapy drugs work by damaging or killing rapidly-dividing cells, such as those in cancers and infections – genetic material in cells, which prevents them from reproducing. They suppress the immune system and destroy rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells.

    Chemotherapy drugs can be given by multiple routes such as, topically, intravenously, intramuscular, intracavitary, and subcutaneously. A few of the most common chemotherapy drugs are Doxorubicin, Cisplatin, and Cyclophosphamide.

    Indication: Slow and stop the growth of tumors.

    Mechanism of action: Directly inhibiting growing cells in the body.

    Side effects (that result from the rapidly dividing cells):

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Hair loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fatigue

    Interferon

    Interferon is a protein that’s produced by cells in response to viral infection. It’s used for treating several types of cancer, including melanoma and breast cancer, but it also has some side effects. Interferon is administered through injection or intravenous infusion into the vein or muscle. Several different regimens are used for this type of medication.

    The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms. These usually go away within a few days of starting treatment and don’t last long after clients stop taking interferon:

    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Aches
    • Chills
    • Sore throat
    • Cough
    • Congestion

    Interferon has been used as a cancer treatment for decades, but it’s not a cure. When interferon is injected into the body, it can act as an antiviral agent and stop the growth of cancer cells.

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    Cancer Drugs Conclusion

    Creating a treatment plan can be challenging for clients with cancer, especially when considering medications. 

    For clients on a regimen of chemotherapy, there is much to consider, and it’s challenging to treat cancer clients. These medications kill rapidly dividing cells and not just cancer cells. This can result in many side effects, including low blood cell counts (which will also result in immunosuppression). 

    Although immunotherapy has some negative effects, it can effectively treat several cancers. There are promising results that immunotherapy and biotherapy may be able to completely eradicate all cancerous cells within a tumor without harming the healthy tissue around it.  There are also hopes that it does not result in unpleasant side effects associated with conventional chemotherapy.

    Sources

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564367 

    https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy/how-chemotherapy-drugs-work.html 

    https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html 

    https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/cancer-drugs/drugs/interferon

    https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/about/pac-20385033

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