Prescription Drugs And Cancer

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Very few drugs that are suspected of causing cancer in humans are used in contemporary medical practice. Those that are, however, fall into two significant categories: alkylating agents that are used to treat cancer; and birth control pills and other hormone preparations.

Alkylating agents. These antineoplastic drugs include busulfan (Myleran), used to treat leukemia that has not responded to other drugs; cyclophos-phamide (Cytoxan), an immunosuppressant used to treat ovarian cancer and malignant lymphoma; melphalan (Alkeran); ifosfamide (Ifex), used to treat testicular cancer and Ewing's sarcoma; cisplatin (Platinol), a drug derived from platinum; and chlorambucil (Leukeran), used in the treatment of leukemia and Hodgkin's disease. All of these drugs have serious side effects ranging from liver toxicity to fibrosis of the lungs, as well as carcinogenic potential. Cyclophosphamide in particular increases a patient's risk of secondary cancers for several years after it has been discontinued.

Synthetic Hormones and Steroid Preparations. The natural and synthetic estrogens used for contraception and for postmenopausal hormone replacement have been associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer. As of the late 1990s, these estrogens are usually combined with progestins, which appear to lower this risk. Diethylstil-bestrol (DES), which is used to treat menopausal symptoms and advanced cancers of the breast, may cause vaginal or cervical cancer in women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy. Oxymetholone (Anadrol), a steroid related to testosterone, is reported to increase the risk of liver cancer.

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