Lupus & Chemo & Cancer
Although chemotherapy drugs can be used to treat lupus and cancer, lupus is not cancer.
For some patients whose kidneys or central nervous systems are affected by lupus, a type of drug called an immunosuppressive may be used. Immunosuppressives, such as cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate mofetil, restrain the overactive immune system by blocking the production of immune cells. These drugs may be given by mouth or by IV infusion.
Whenever starting a new drug you should always talk about side effects with your doctor; however, this is especially important before taking immunosuppressant drugs because they often have serious side effects.
Understandably, identifying and developing better treatments for lupus—and ensuring that patients receive the best treatments—are among the primary goals of lupus research. A 2005 study of 17 adults with lupus that was clinically active despite treatment, found that just one injection of the cancer drug rituximab eased symptoms for up to a year or more. Several participants were able to reduce or completely stop their regular lupus medications. Rituximab works by lowering the number of B cells—white blood cells that produce antibodies—in the body. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a type of cancer called lymphoma, as well as for rheumatoid arthritis. Further research is needed to better understand its effectiveness and safety and to better determine its role in lupus treatment.
Studies from the NIH Intramural Research Program determined that treatment with immunosuppressive drugs (cyclophosphamide and prednisone) can prevent or delay kidney failure caused by nephritis, one of the most serious and life-threatening complications of lupus. Other NIH-supported research has shown that lupus patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were less likely to develop severe kidney disease, had lower disease activity, and used less steroid medication.
Immunosupporessive drugs used to treat lupus include:
- Mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept)
- Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Gengraf)
- Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
- Methotrexate (Rheumatrex)
- Leflunomide (Arava)
- Cytotoxic Drugs
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
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