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Types of Drugs Used in Cancer Treatment

Oncology drugs are therapeutics used to treat cancer, a group of diseases caused by uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells. Oncology drugs include a range of different types of medications, such as chemotherapy agents, targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and hormone therapies. There are also different types of drugs available to help treat the side effects of oncology drugs.


If you have cancer, it’s likely you’ll have a few options when it comes to treatment. Cancer treatment is constantly evolving and progressing. You now have more drug options to choose from than ever before.



chemotherapy drugs are chemical agents that work by destroying fast-growing cells in the body. Cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than other cells. The goal of chemotherapy is to lower the total number of cancer cells in your body and reduce the chances that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).


Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is used to treat cancers that rely on hormones to grow. This may include certain types of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Breast cancers may be fed by estrogen or progesterone, while prostate cancers often depend on the hormone androgen.

Some examples of hormone therapies include:

  • leuprolide (Lupron)
  • anastrozole (Arimidex)
  • letrozole (Femara)
  • tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
  • fulvestrant (Faslodex)

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are part of a new approach known as personalized medicine or precision medicine. Targeted therapies are able to seek out and kill cancerous cells without harming the normal cells in your body. These drugs work by blocking the molecular pathways that are critical to tumor growth.

To see if you’re eligible for a particular targeted therapy, a doctor will first perform genetic or biomarker testing. The results of this testing will allow your doctor to make an informed decision about which drug is more likely to work for your type of cancer, based on the genetic mutations or other molecular characteristics of your tumor.

Examples of targeted oncology drugs include:

  • bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • alectinib (Alecensa)
  • ibrutinib (Imbruvica)
  • imatinib (Gleevec)
  • palbociclib (Ibrance)



Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. Cancer cells sometimes have strategic ways of hiding from your immune system, but immunotherapies work by blocking these mechanisms.

Immunotherapies are approved to treat a variety of cancers. Examples include:

  • nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • ipilimumab (Yervoy)



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