Doxorubicin is an anthracycline type chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of a number of cancers including soft tissue sarcomas, carcinomas, and hematological malignancies. It has also been used as a treatment for lung tissue disorders, particularly mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure.

How it Works

Anthracycline type chemotherapy drugs work by inhibiting the process of cancer cell division. Doxorubicin affects these cells by intercalating their DNA strands, making it difficult if not impossible for the chromosomes to replicate during metaphase. The cell will not be able to divide, and after a period of time it simply dies. Doxorubicin is commonly used with other chemotherapy drugs to target cancer cells, which grow and divide more rapidly than most other cells in the body. The affect on healthy cells is prominent, however, and especially slows the growth of hair cells and the body’s natural defense mechanisms.

Administering the Drug

Doxorubicin is given intravenously and the procedure usually takes under 20 minutes. It can therefore be administered as an outpatient treatment, although persons taking the drug in combination with other inhibitors may have to receive these additional injections on separate dates. As with all anthracycline treatments, doxorubicin interacts with a number of other drugs and medications which can result in serious illnesses or death.

Side effects of doxorubicin include low white cell count, loss of appetite, nausea, hair loss and low platelet count. Acute life-threatening arrhythmias have been reported from the administering of doxorubicin, which may be due to the slow elimination of the active ingredients.

Treating Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma has been treated using doxorubicin with reduction rates as high as 15 percent in clinical studies. Mesothelioma is a serious disease caused by asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled and affect the pleural lining of the lungs. Patients who exhibit symptoms of mesothelioma often worked in factories or production plants where asbestos was used as an insulating material against high heat. The tiny asbestos fibers can remain dormant in the lungs for 20 to 50 years before exhibiting carcinogenic effects.

Doxorubicin has not been shown to completely eliminate cancer cells in mesothelioma patients, and the drug is often used in combination with other chemotherapy treatments as an inhibitor only. It is available only through prescription for cancer treatment, and is not classified as a cure for any disease.