Specific Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy started in the early 20th century when scientists observed nitrogen mustards suppressed bone marrow activity.  Early chemotherapy was given as a palliative, but over time the goals adjusted to causing remission or cure.

While the other mainstays of cancer treatment – radiation therapy and surgery – are directed at one portion of the body at a time, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.  The anti-cancer drugs travel through the body and can attack cancerous cells anywhere.


Medicine Trade Name Category Comments
Abemaciclib Verzenio CDK (Cyclin-Dependent Kinase) Inhibitor
Abiraterone Zytiga Antiandrogen, CYP17A1 inhibitor
Acalabrutinib Calquence BTK inhibitor
Actinomycin-D Act-D, Cosmegen Antibiotics
Ado-trastuzumab Kadcyla antibody-drug conjugate also called Trastuzumab emtansine
Afatinib Gilotrif kinase inhibitor
Aldesleukin Proleukin Immunostimulant
Alectinib Alecensa kinase inhibitor
Alemtuzumab Campath Monoclonal antibody
Alitretinoin Panretin, Toctino Retinoids
Altretamine Hexalen Alkylating agent
Aminoglutethimide Cytadren Aromatase inhibitor
Anastrozole Arimidex Aromatase inhibitor
Apalutamide Erleada anti-androgen
Arabinosylcytosine Cytarabine Antimetabolite
Arsenic Trioxide Other Might also cause cancer
Asparaginase, L-asoaaginase Elspar, Kidrolase Enzyme
Atezolizumab Tecentriq MAB checkpoint inhibitor
Avelumab Bavencio MAB checkpoint inhibitor
Axicabtagene Yescarta CAR T-Cell therapy
Axitinib Inlyta kinase inhibitor
Azacitidine Vidaza Antimetabolite
Belinostat Beleodaq HDAC Inhibitor
Bendamustine Treanda Alkylating Agent, Mustard
Bevacizumab Avastin Monoclonal antibody Angiogenesis inhibitor
Bexarotene Targretin Retinoid
Bicalutamide Casodex Anti-Androgen
Binimetinib Mektovi kinase inhibitor
Bleomycin Blenoxane Antibiotic
Blinatumomab Blincyto MAB
Bortezomib Velcade Proteasome inhibitor
Bosutinib Bosulif kinase inhibitor
Brentuximab vedotin Adcetris
Brigatinib Alunbrig ALK inhibitor
Busulfan Myleran Alkylating Agent Alkyl sulfonate
Cabazitaxel Jevtana Taxane
Cabozantinib Cabometyx kinase inhibitor
Camptothecin Camptosar topoisomerase inhibitor
Capecitabine Xeloda Antimetabolite Prodrug of Fluorouracil
Carboplatin Paraplatin Alkylating Agent Platinum compound
Carfilzomib Kyprolis Proteasome inhibitor
Carmustine BiCNU Alkylating Agent Nitrosurea
Cemiplimab-rwlc Libtayo Monoclonal Antibody
Ceritinib Zykadia ALK inhibitor
Cetuximab Erbitux MAB
Clofarabine Clolar antimetabolite
Chlorambucil Leukeran Alkylating Agent, mustard
Cisplatin Platinol Alkylating Agent Platinum compound
Cladribine Litak and Movectro Antimetabolite Adenosine deaminase inhibitor
Cobimetinib Cotellic MEK Inhibitor
Copanlisib Aliqopa PIK3 Inhibitor
Crizotinib Xalkori Kinase Inhibitor
Cyclophosphamide Endoxan, Cytoxan, Neosar Alkylating Agent, mustard
Cytarabine Cytosar-U Antimetabolite
Dabrafenib Taflinar BRAF inhibitor
Dacarbazine DTIC, DTIC-Dome Alkylating Agent
Dacomitinib Vizimpro Kinase inhibitor
Dactinomycin Cosmegen Antibiotic
Daratumumab Darzalex MAB
Dasatinib Sprycel Kinase Inhibitor
Daunorubicin DaunoXome, Cerubidine Anthracycline
Decarbazine Tasigna alkylating agent
Decitabine Dacogen Antimetabolite Cytosine Analog
Degarelix Firmagon Antiandrogen
Denileukin diftitox Ontak Other
Dinutuximab Unituxin MAB
Docetaxel Taxotere Mitotic Inhibitor
Doxorubicin Adriamycin Anthracycline
Durvalumab Imfinzi monoclonal antibody checkpoint inhibitor
Duvelisib Copiktra P1K3 inhibitor


Medicine Trade Name Category Comments
Elotuzumab Emplicit MAB
Enasidenib Idhifa IDH2 inhibitor
Encorafenib Braftovi kinase inhibitor
Enzalutamide Xtandi nonsteroidal antiandrogen
Epirubicin Ellence Anthracycline
Erlotinib Tarceva Kinase Inhibitor
Estramustine Estracit Alkylating Agent, Mustard
Etoposide Eposin, Vepesid Topoisomerase inhibitor plant alkaloid
Everolimus Afinitor, Zortress mTOR inhibitor
Exemestane Aromasin Aromatase Inhibitor
Fludarabine Phosphate Fludara Antimetabolite
Fluorouracil (5-FU) Adrucil Antimetabolite
Floxuridine FUDR Antimetabolite pyrimidine analog
Fludarabine Fludara Antimetabolite purine analog
Flutamide Eulexin nonsteroidal antiandrogen
Fulvestrant Faslodex Hormone Suppressant
Gefitinib Iressa Kinase Inhibitor
Gemcitabine Gemzar Antimetabolite Nucleoside analog
Gemtuzumab ozogamicin Mylotarg Monoclonal antibody
Goserelin Zoladex Hormone agonist
Histrelin Vantas, Supprelin Hormone suppressant
Hydroxyurea Hydrea, Droxia, Mylocel Antimetabolite inhibition of the enzyme ribonucleotide reductase
Ibritumomab Zevalin Monoclonal antibody
Ibrutinib Imbruvica BTK inhibitor
Idarubicin Idamycin Anthracycline
Idelalisib Zydelig PI3K inhibitor
Ifosfamide Mitoxana, Ifex Alkylating Agent
Imatinib Gleevec Kinase Inhibitor
Inotuzumab ozogamicin Besponsa MAB
Irinotecan Onivyde, Campostar topoisomerase inhibitor
Ipilimumab Yervoy MAB checkpoint inhibitor
Irinotecan Camptosa Topoisomerase inhibitor
Isotretinoin Roaccutane Retinoid
Ivosidenib Tibsovo IDH1 Inbibitor
Ixabepilone Azaepothilone B Mitotic Inhibitor
Ixazomib Ninlaro Proteosome inhibitor
Lapatinib Tykerb Kinase Inhibitor
Lenalidomide Revlimid Immunomodulatory imide Angiogenesis inhibitor
Lenvatinib Lanvima kinase inhibitor
Letrozole Femara Aromatase Inhibitor


Medicine Trade Name Category Comments
Leucovorin Antimetabolite Same as Folinic acid
Leuprolide Viadur, Eligard Hormone Suppresant
Lomustine CeeNu Alkylating Agent Nitrosurea
Lorlatinib Lorbrena kinase inhibitor
Lutetium Lu 177 dotatate Lutathera other
Mechlorethamine Mustargen Alkylating Agent
Megestrol Megace hormone suppressant
Melphalan Alkeran Alkylating Agent
Mercaptopurine Purinethol Antimetabolite
Methotrexate MTX Antimetabolite Antifolate
Midostaurin Rydapt kinase inhibitor
Mitomycin Mutamycin Antibiotic
Mitotane Lysodren inhibitor of the adrenal cortex
Mitoxantrone Novantrone Topoisomerase inhibitor
Mogamulizumab Poteligeo Monoclonal antibody
Moxetumomab pasudotox-tdfk Lumoxiti Monoclonal antibody
Necitumumab Portrazza MAB
Nelarabine Arranon Antimetabolite
Neratinib Nerlynx kinase inhibitor
Nilotinib Tasigna Kinase inhibitor
Nilutamide Nilandron, Anandron Anti-androgen
Niraparib Zejula PARP Inhibitor
Nivolumab Opdivo MAB checkpoint inhibitor
Obinutuzumab Gazyva MAB
Octreotide Sandostatin hormone suppressant
Ofatumumab Arzerra Monoclonal antibody
Olaparib Lymparza PARP Inhibitor
Olaratumab Lartruvo MAB
Omacetaxine Synribo protein translation inhibitor and plant alkaloid
Osimertinib Tagrisso kinase inhibitor EGFR inhibitor
Oxaliplatin Eloxatin Alkylating Agent Platinum compound


Medicine Trade Name Category Comments
Paclitaxel Taxol Mitotic Inhibitor taxane
Palbociclib Ibrance CDK4/6 inhibitor
Panobinostat Farydak HDAC inhibitor
Pembrolizumab Keytruda MAB checkpoint inhibitor
Panitumumab Vectibix Monoclonal antibody
Pazopanib Votrient Kinase Inhibitor
Pegaspargase Oncaspar Other
Pegfilgrastim Neulasta Other
Pemetrexed Alimta Antimetabolite Antifolate
Pentostatin Nipent Antimetabolite deoxycoformycin
Pertuzumab Perjeta MAB
Pomalidomide Pomalyst Immunomodulatory imide
Pralatrexate Folotyn Antimetabolite Antifolate
Ponatinib Iclusig kinase inhibitor
Prednisolone Delta-Cortef, Orapred, Pediapred, Prelone
Corticosteroid Mostly used for other diseases
Prednisone Deltasone, Meticorten, Orasone Corticosteroid Mostly used for other diseases
Procarbazine Matulane Antimetabolite


Medicine Trade Names Category Other
Raltitrexed Tomudex Antimetabolite Antifolate
Ramucirumab Cyramza MAB
Regorafenib Stivarga kinase inhibitor
Ribociclib Kisqali inhibitor of cyclin D1/CDK4 and CDK6
Rituximab Rituxan, MabThera Monoclonal antibody
Romidepsin Istodax HDAC Inhibitor
Rucaparib Rubraca PARP Inhibitor
Ruxolitinib Jakafi kinase inhibitor
Siltuximab Sylvant MAB
Sonidegib Odomzo Hedgehog signaling pathway inhibitor
Sorafenib Nexavar Kinase Inhibitor
Streptozocin Zanosar Alkylating agent Nitrosurea
Sunitinib Sutent Kinase Inhibitor
Talazoparib Talzenna PARP Inhibitor
Talimogene laherparepvec Imlygic oncolytic herpes virus
Tamoxifen Nolvadex, Istubal, and Valodex Aromatase inhibitor
Temozolomide Temodar, Temodal Alkylating agent
Temsirolimus Torisel mTOR Inhibitor
Teniposide Vumon, VM-26 topoisomerase II inhibitor plant alkaloid
Thalidomide Thalomid Immunomodulatory imide
Thioguanine Tabloid Antimetabolites
Thiotepa Thioplex Alkylating agent
Tisagenlecleucel Kymriah adoptive cell transfer
Topotecan Hycamtin Topoisomerase inhibitor
Toremifene Fareston Hormone Suppressant
Tositumomab Bexxar Monoclonal antibody
Trabectedin Yondelis alkylating agent
Trametinib Mekinist kinase inhibitor of MEK1 and MEK2
Trastuzumab Herceptin Antibody-drug conjugate
Tretinonin Vesanoid Retinoid
Trifluridine/Tipiricil Lonsurf antimetabolite
Triptorelin Trelstar hormone suppressant
Valrubicin Valstar Anthracycline
Vandetanib Caprelsa kinase inhibitor
Vemurafenib Zelboraf BRAF kinase inhibitor
Venetoclax Venclexta BCL-2 Inhibitor
Vinblastine Velban Vinca Alkaloid
Vincristine Vincasar Pfs Vinca Alkaloid
Vindesine Eldisine Vinca Alkaloid
Vinorelbine Navelbine Vinca Alkaloid
Vismodegib Erivedge hedgehog pathway inhibitor
Vorinostat Zolinza HDAC inhibitor
Ziv-aflibercept Zaltrap VEGF inhibitor

Information on how medicines are named

Properties we want in anti-cancer medicines

How would you attack a cancerous cell?  In a body full of trillions of cells, how do you get the cancerous ones and not the healthy ones.  It’s not easy, and devising a method that can kill only malignant cells while leaving normal cells unscathed is a holy grail of cancer.

If we could have the ideal chemotherapy drug, what characteristics would it have?  Some ideas:

  • Would work both to cure cancer and to prevent it
  • Easy to give to patients, avoids needles or extended administration times.  Oral administration in a pill might be ideal
  • Has no negative effect from chronic administration
  • Rapidly shrinks tumor and/or kills cancer cells with no effect on non-cancerous cells.  In other words, has high specificity for cancer.

And what biochemical targets would these drugs aim at?  Perhaps those:

  • High level of expression in neoplastic tissue
  • Important in pathogenesis of cancer
  • Not important in regular functioning of tissue
  • Susceptible to pharmacological disruption
  • If you inhibit the target, you stop or slow the cancer

The earliest antineoplastic compounds aimed at cellular reproduction.  One way malignant cells differ is in that they reproduce more quickly than other cells.  If you send in a drug to disrupt the mitosis (cell dividing) process, you can affect fast-multiplying cancerous cells more than normal cells.  And this is the method by which most chemotherapy drugs have their effects.  Kill the cells while they divide.  We say the drugs are cytotoxic.

Of course the specificity is not even close to perfect, which means many healthy cells are inadvertently killed.   That’s why chemotherapy drugs have severe side effects.

This also explains why side effects show up where they do.  In the cancer-free body some cells multiply faster than others.  Cells in the bone marrow, skin, lining of the digestive system, for instance, grow faster than most cells, and that’s why common side effects include anemia, skin rashes, and nausea.

The cell reproduction cycle is complex and different chemotherapy drugs attack different points in the cycle, so we see somewhat different side effects from different drugs.

This is why chemo nay-sayers say chemo is poison.  The difference between a poison and a medicine is at least partly in the intent of the administrator.


Liver and Kidney damage

The body eliminates foreign substances largely through action of the kidneys and liver.  The liver metabolizes foreign substances – that is – it chemically transforms them to different materials.  If these foreign substances are poisons, the liver might be able to make them non-poisonous, or less poisonous.  The kidneys are super-filters that remove unusual materials from the bloodstream.  When the kidneys function correctly, foreign substances are sent to the urine stream and they exit the body.

Because they are at the front line in the war against poison, the kidneys and liver often take the most damage, and emergency room doctors know to check liver and kidney function when a patient has swallowed something hazardous.  Likewise, liver and kidney damage happens during chemotherapy treatment and is a particular danger if the dose is too high.  The assault on these organs is fundamentally different from the side effects chemotherapy bring; damage to the liver and kidneys is acute and often causes immediate cessation of the cancer treatment.  Further, if the cancer itself damages the liver or kidneys, options for chemotherapy treatment are reduced.

Popular combination regimens for chemotherapy.

The economics and market structure of the chemotherapy industry.