Epirubicin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer and other types of cancerous growths. It is classified as an anthracycline antibiotic, and works to slow or even stop cancer cells from dividing. Clinical studies have been performed using this drug in combination with gemcitabine as a possible deterrent against the growth and multiplication of mesothelioma cancer cells.

How It Works

Like a number of other anthracyclines, epirubicin acts against the formation of DNA strands. The strands become intercalated, and during cell growth the production of duplicate strands that will separate and remain in the daughter cells is partially or totally inhibited. Instead the parent cell will eventually die without dividing, and this reduces the number of malignant cancer cells in the affected area. Epirubicin also triggers an increase in free radicals that also contributes to the death of cancer cells. The drug affects other cells in the body including hair cells and those that are critical to the immune system; chemotherapy using anthracyclines usually results in hair loss in most individuals.

Administering the Drug

Depending on a patient’s condition, epirubicin may be used in place of the more popular doxorubicin because it has fewer overall side effects. Individuals with ovarian cancer, lymphomas, lung cancer and gastric cancers often have a faster elimination process when administered epirucibin because of the drug’s unique orientation of a particular hydroxyl group. Epirucibin is taken intravenously and is usually administered once or more per week.

Side effects of epirubicin include a lowered number of blood platelets and white cell counts, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss. For most patients the drug is given in combination with other chemotherapy medications, but not necessarily at the same time.

Treating Mesothelioma

There have been a number of clinical studies where epirubicin has been administered as a chemotherapy treatment for mesothelioma. In these instances the drug has been given in combination with gemcitabine for patients showing symptoms of developed pleural mesothelioma cancer stemming from exposure to asbestos fibers.

Asbestos is a natural compound that was used as an insulating material in power plants, metal works, factories with boiler rooms, shipyards and other facilities where fireproofing was required. Asbestos fibers often became loosened and could be inhaled by humans, where they became embedded in the pleural linings of the lungs. 20 to 50 years later the fibers would act as a carcinogen and lead to a number of different health disorders including asbestosis and mesothelioma. The latter is malignant and life-threatening; the use of epirubicin as a chemotherapy treatment can slow the growth of cancer cells but is not a cure for this disease.