Mitomycin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat certain lung and other cancers, including asbestos-related mesothelioma. Mitomycin is classed as an antibiotic, yet behaves like an alkylating agent, inhibiting DNA synthesis and stopping cell division, resulting in cell death. Mitomycin is administered through an IV, usually once every six to eight weeks, although the prescribing physician may alter the frequency. Dosage also depends on the patient’s weight, kidney function and blood counts. If blood counts read too low, treatment may be delayed.

Mitomycin Side Effects

As with other chemotherapy medications, significant side effects are possible. Chief among these are reduced white blood cells, decreased platelet counts and body-wide hair loss. Reduced white blood cells can increase the risk of infection; therefore caution should be taken to avoid exposure including not receiving vaccinations during treatment. Because lowered platelets can increase bleeding risks, patients should avoid medications that further affect the body’s ability to control bleeding, including aspirin and other NSAIDs, Coumadin (warfarin), Ticlid (ticlopidine), Plavix (clopidogrel) and vitamin E. Mitomycin may affect the fertility levels. Pregnant women and women who become pregnant should notify their doctors, even if the male partner received mitomycin. Mitomycin is not recommended for nursing mothers.

Nausea and vomiting are also possible side effects, as are fever, mouth sores, and loss of appetite. Physicians may prescribe anti-nausea medication to counteract specifically-related symptoms. Rare but serious effects may include pneumonia, and damage to the heart or kidneys. Conditions such as liver or kidney disease, congestive heart failure, heart disease, gout, diabetes or the presence of infections may require adjustments to mitomycin dosage. Those with bleeding disorders, such as von Willebrand’s disease or hemophilia, should tell their physicians beforehand.

Mitomycin and Treating Mesothelioma

Mitomycin can be used as a complementary drug in chemotherapy regimens for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. This disease is caused when asbestos fibers that are present in the lungs begin to act as a carcinogen, affecting nearby cells and causing cancerous growths. Asbestos fibers are a form of silicate compound, are extremely tiny, and are easily inhaled. This disease is especially prevalent among the employees of various industrial fields. Asbestos insulation can break down over time, allowing free-floating fibers to be inhaled and become embedded in a person’s lung tissue or pleural lining. Mitomycin is not a cure for mesothelioma, but is effective in slowing the growth and division of these cells. Mesothelioma tends to exhibit a long latency period, meaning patients are usually diagnosed in the later stages. Cancer cells reproduce quite rapidly, which is the reason drugs such as mitomycin can be used to target them. This drug was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as of 1984.


American Cancer Society