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Platinol is the brand name for a widely-used chemotherapy drug called cisplatin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved cisplatin for cancer treatment in 1978. Currently manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Tocris Biosciences, and many other pharmaceuticals, cisplatin is widely available in both brand name and generic form.
Like other chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin is administered intravenously in cycles. Cisplatin is a platinum-based chemotherapy drug that kills fast-growing cells. Cisplatin is a common treatment choice for mesothelioma. However, it is often combined with other drugs. It can cause serious side effects that must be carefully monitored.
What Is Cisplatin?
Cisplatin is a platinum-containing chemotherapy drug that specifically attacks fast-growing cells in the body. It is administered intravenously for several hours, but only once every three to four weeks. Because cisplatin is only specific to fast-growing cells, it kills cancer cells as well as healthy cells that grow and divide rapidly. Cisplatin causes cancer cells to die by binding to and distorting DNA, triggering cell death. Because this drug also affects healthy cells, it causes certain side effects. Patients are typically given as much of the drug as they can handle. Cisplatin causes cancer cells to die by binding to and distorting DNA, triggering cell death.
Cisplatin is used to treat several types of cancers, including cancers of the head and neck, bladder, breast, testicles, ovaries, cervix, lungs, brain, and mesothelioma. When first introduced in 1978, cisplatin was claimed a cure for testicular cancer. Although its discovery was accidental, the drug has saved countless lives and continues to be an important part of cancer research and clinical trials.
Combination Therapy with Cisplatin
Cisplatin combined with other chemotherapy drugs has been a basic treatment approach for decades. Cisplatin is usually combined with other drugs because it is only effective for a limited period of time. Eventually, often after a relapse of the cancer, cancer cells become immune to the drug.
To combat this resistance, cisplatin is typically combined with one or more chemotherapy drugs. Combinations are also popular for treating mesothelioma patients because cisplatin alone only has a small response rate on mesothelioma tumors. For mesothelioma, doxorubicin is a common choice for cisplatin combination therapy. Other possible combinations for cisplatin and include Alimta and gemcitabine.
Cisplatin in Mesothelioma Treatment
Cisplatin can be used in several ways to treat mesothelioma patients. It may be used after surgery to eliminate cancer cells the surgeon could not physically remove. FOr patients who are poor candidates for surgery, cisplatin and other drugs slow the progression of the disease.
Combined with doxorubicin, cisplatin is often used for patients in advanced stages of mesothelioma. Used mainly for palliative care, this drug combination helps relive cancer symptoms and make patients more comfortable. More recently, cisplatin has been combined with Alimta for mesothelioma patients. Clinical trials show patients with mesothelioma live longer when given this combination than when receiving cisplatin alone.
Cisplatin has also been tested in combination with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine for mesothelioma patients. The results of an Australian clinical trial demonstrated about half of patients responded well to the combination. For these patients, survival time was extended by an average of ten months. A combination of radical surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy with cisplatin, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide was found to significantly improve survival times for patients.
Common Side Effects
Because cisplatin kills rapidly-growing cells indiscriminately, it can cause a number of common side effects. These side effects mostly subside once chemotherapy treatment is complete. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, changes in taste, low red and white blood cell counts, hearing loss, and numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes.
To some extent, these side effects can be managed. For example, doctors may recommend a course of vitamin B12 supplements to avoid anemia and fatigue. Many patients are also given anti-nausea drugs while on a course of cisplatin. Alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage may also help patients cope with side effects.
Serious Side Effects
Cisplatin can also cause serious side effects. Any signs of these should be reported to a doctor immediately. Platinol and cisplatin carry a black box warning which is the FDA’s most severe warning label. A black box warning is used to ensure patients and doctors understand serious potential risks of using this medication.
One serious concern is kidney toxicity. The platinum in cisplatin can cause serious toxicity issues for some patients, especially those with previous kidney problems. Patients on cisplatin who experience severe fatigue, decreased urination, or swelling in the legs, arms, feet, hands, or face, should report to their doctor immediately.
Hearing loss is another potentially serious issue. Cisplatin can cause permanent hearing loss, especially for children.
Patients on cisplatin should also watch for signs of infection, including chills, fever, bloody stool, bloody vomit, seizures, vision loss, eye pain, muscle cramps, and chest pains. Some people may have a severe reaction to cisplatin, which may include rash or irritation at the injection site, swelling in the face and mouth, difficulty breathing, hives, and dizziness. For some patients, side effects of cisplatin are severe. These patients may benefit from an alternative chemotherapy drug that does not contain platinum.
For many mesothelioma patients, cisplatin and Platinol play an important role in treatment and management of the disease. While side effects can be uncomfortable or even severe, most patients tolerate the drug well. For many mesothelioma patients, cisplatin and other chemotherapy drugs may be the only treatment option. This is because surgery is often impossible in the later stages when the cancer has spread. With continued research into cisplatin combined with other drugs, more patients will benefit from the positive effects of cisplatin.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.