Doxorubicin, an anthracycline antibiotic, is one of the most common chemotherapeutic agents used to treat mesothelioma. It is FDA-approved for use in a number of cancers including breast cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, and liver cancer. It is one of the most extensively studied mesothelioma chemotherapeutic agents and improves survival rates when used alone.
While study results show that the drug can extend survival times when used in combination with other agents, this method may come with increased side effects, so it’s important to discuss the risks versus benefits with your doctor and family.
How Doxorubicin Works
Doxorubicin is administered by intravenous infusion, and treats cancer systemically. The dose and duration depends on whether it is used alone or with another agent.
As cells grow and divide, they do so in different stages. Doxorubicin interferes with these stages and hinders the ability of the cells to divide and grow.
Common side effects of doxorubicin include:
- Hair loss
- Darkening of nails
- Nausea and vomiting
- Arrhythmias or abnormal heart beats
There is also an increased risk of developing leukemia years after treatment is completed. This risk is elevated in patients who undergo a combination of doxorubicin and other chemotherapy drugs.
Study Results and Potential Benefits of Doxorubicin
The benefit of utilizing doxorubicin alone is an increased median survival of 7 to 9 months. When combined with other chemotherapeutic agents, median life spans have increased to 13 months. Data has indicated when combining doxorubicin with paclitaxel and cisplatin, patients have achieved median survival of up to 6.5 years.
There is also promising data indicating that combining doxorubicin with other novel chemotherapeutic agents may provide significantly longer survival times.
A report published in 2012 showed success for a 67-year-old male patient who was treated with pegylated doxorubicin, etoposide, and paclitaxel. At the time of the study, the patient was at 9 years of survival. Follow-up is ongoing and CT scans indicate that his cancer has not progressed.
Doxorubicin has also been effectively used after tumor reduction surgery. After removing tumors from the abdominal cavity, surgeons “bathe” the cavity with heated doxorubicin. This is performed to kill missed cancer cells during the surgery, preventing them from growing into new tumors. Patients undergoing this procedure have experienced median survival up to 5 years.