Types of Chemotherapy Drugs

Callaix takes a methodical approach to organize 200+ medicines on this site.

Common ways of classing different drugs include

  • By chemical structure
  • By therapeutic use – the disease or condition they are intended to address.
  • By mechanism of action or mode of action – how the drug interacts with the body’s biology and physiology
  • By origin – e.g. plants or manufacture process – monoclonal antibodies

The Callaix system is a hybrid of origin and mechanism of action.  We group antibodies (and conjugates) together and we group kinase inhibitors together.  Many drugs could fall into more than one class. Some metabolic drugs inhibit more than one type of kinase. There is no perfect system.


Alkylating Agents

Kinase Inhibitors

Vinca Alkaloids



Aromatase Inhibitors

Topoisomerase Inhibitors

mTor Inhibitors


HDAC Inhibitors

PARP Inhibitors

Selective Inhibitors of Nuclear Export

Hormone Suppressants

Monoclonal antibodies and conjugates

Drug therapy against cancer works by two general methods (1) inducing apoptosis and (2) stopping tumor growth.  The cytotoxic medicines induce apoptosis, while targeted therapies and hormone therapies stop or slow the progression of the cancer.  Roughly, we can classify the medicines this way:

Cytotoxic: alkylating agents, anthracyclines (and other antibiotics), vinca alkaloids, topoisomerase inhibitors.  Hormone therapies: retinoids, aromatase inhibitors, hormone suppressants.  Targeted therapies: monoclonal antibodies and signal transduction inhibitors (kinase inhibitors, HDAC inhibitors, PARP inhibitors, etc.)

Some chemotherapy agents work in specific parts of the cell’s reproductive cycle.  You see agents that are described as inhibiting the S-Phase or the M-Phase.  Others are non-phase specific.

Cell Cycle

Other drugs are not explicitly cytotoxic, but instead work by disrupting the ability of the tumor to stay intact. This is the method of action that most targeted therapies use.

Each patient gets a drug or group of drugs administered by oral or intravenous injection (or other less commonly used routes such as intrathecal injection) at a precise dose, based on patient weight, and given over a finite and defined time period. Adjuvant therapy is chemotherapy given to high risk patients after other definitive local therapy (radiation or surgery) has removed the tumor. It is established therapy for breast, colorectal, osteosarcoma, Wilm’s tumor, and some stages of gastric, non-small lung cell cancers and some melanomas. In contrast, neoadjuvant therapy is given before other localized therapy (such as surgery or radiation) is used. It may be beneficial in treatment of advanced but limited breast tumors, laryngeal, esophageal, bladder, anal cancers and some sarcomas.

Ways to administer chemotherapy

Cancer mutations and personalized therapy

History of chemotherapy

Names of cancer medicines