Small Cell Lung Cancer Medication

Updated: May 29, 2018
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Dexamethasone (Decadron, Dexamethasone Intensol, Dexasone)

Dexamethasone is a synthetic adrenocortical steroid with multiple indications. This agent is widely used in combination with serotonin (5-HT) receptor antagonists to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by highly emetogenic agents (eg, cisplatin).


Antiemetic Agents

Metoclopramide (Metozolv ODT, Reglan)

Metoclopramide is a dopamine antagonist that enhances the response to acetylcholine of tissue in the upper GI tract, causing antiemetic activity. At higher doses, metoclopramide blocks serotonin receptors in the chemoreceptor trigger zone of the central nervous system (CNS).

Ondansetron (Zofran, Zofran ODT, Zuplenz)

Ondansetron is a selective serotonin (5-HT3)-receptor antagonist that is used to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Granisetron (Kytril, Granisol, Sancuso)

Granisetron is a selective 5-HT3-receptor antagonist that is used to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Dolasetron (Anzemet)

Dolasetron binds to 5-HT3 receptors located on vagal neurons in the GI tract, blocking signals to the vomiting center, thus preventing nausea and vomiting.

Palonosetron (Aloxi)

Palonosetron is a selective 5-HT3 receptor antagonist with long half-life (40 h) that blocks 5-HT3 receptors peripherally and centrally in the chemoreceptor trigger zone. This agent is indicated for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.


Antineoplastics, Alkylating

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)

Cyclophosphamide is chemically related to the nitrogen mustards. As an alkylating agent, the mechanism of action of its active metabolites may involve cross-linking of DNA, which may interfere with the growth of normal and neoplastic cells. Fatal cardiotoxicity has been reported with coadministration of pentostatin.

Carboplatin (Paraplatin)

Carboplatin is a platinum alkylating agent that interferes with the function of DNA by producing interstrand DNA cross-links. It can be used for the treatment of small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which is an off-label indication. Carboplatin has black box warnings, including bone marrow suppression, anaphylactic reactions, and vomiting.


Cisplatin is a platinum-containing compound that exerts an antineoplastic effect by covalently binding to DNA, with preferential binding to the N-7 position of guanine and adenosine. It can react with 2 different sites on DNA to produce cross-links. The platinum complex can also bind to nuclear and cytoplasmic protein. Cisplatin has black box warnings, including anaphylacticlike reactions, ototoxicity, and renal toxicity.

Ifosfamide (Ifex)

Ifosfamide is a nitrogen mustard alkylating agent that inhibits DNA and protein synthesis. Although not FDA approved, ifosfamide is often used as a treatment for relapsed SCLC.


Topoisomerase Inhibitors

Irinotecan (Camptosar)

Irinotecan binds reversibly to the topoisomerase I-DNA complex and prevents the ligation of the cleaved DNA strand. It has been used off label for the treatment of extensive-stage small cell lung cancer. Black box warnings for irinotecan include bone marrow suppression and diarrhea.

Topotecan (Hycamtin)

Topotecan inhibits topoisomerase I and thereby inhibits DNA replication. This agent may interact with other antineoplastic drugs to cause prolonged neutropenia and thrombocytopenia in addition to increasing morbidity/mortality. Topotecan is indicated for the treatment of relapsed or refractory small cell lung cancer (SCLC).


Antineoplastics, Anthracycline

Doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Caelyx, Rubex)

Doxorubicin is an anthracycline antineoplastic that causes DNA strand breakage through its effects on topoisomerase II and through direct intercalation into DNA, which causes DNA polymerase inhibition. It has a labeled indication for the treatment of small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Doxorubicin has several black box warnings, including bone marrow suppression, myocardial toxicity, and secondary malignancy.


Antineoplastics, Vinca Alkaloid

Vincristine (Oncovin)

Vincristine inhibits tubulin polymerization during mitosis. This agent is G2-phase specific. Vincristine may interact with mitomycin-C and cause an acute pulmonary reaction.

Vinorelbine (Navelbine)

Vinorelbine is a vinca alkaloid that inhibits tubulin polymerization during G2 phase of cell division, thereby inhibiting mitosis.


Antineoplastics, Antimicrotubular

Paclitaxel (Taxol, Abraxane)

Paclitaxel promotes microtubule assembly, interferes with the G2 mitotic phase, and inhibits cell replication. It has an off-label indication for the treatment of small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Black box warnings for paclitaxel include bone marrow suppression and hypersensitivity reactions.

Docetaxel (Taxotere, Docefrez)

Docetaxel inhibits the depolymerization of tubulin, which inhibits DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis. It can be used for the treatment of relapsed SCLC, which is an off-label indication. Docetaxel has several black box warnings, such as bone marrow suppression, fluid retention, and hypersensitivity reactions. This drug is not recommended for use in certain patients with hepatic impairment. Patients undergoing docetaxel treatment should be premedicated with corticosteroids the day before administration, to help reduce fluid retention and hypersensitivity reactions.


Antineoplastics, Antimetabolite

Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

Gemcitabine is a pyrimidine analog. After intracellular metabolism to its active nucleotide, it inhibits ribonucleotide reductase and competes with deoxycytidine triphosphate for incorporation into DNA. Although use of this drug as a treatment for refractory or relapsed small cell lung cancer (SCLC) has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gemcitabine is often used for this purpose.


Antineoplastics, Podophyllotoxin Derivatives

Etoposide (Toposar, VePesid)

Etoposide inhibits topoisomerase II and appears to cause DNA strand breakage. It has been shown to delay transit of cells through the S phase and arrest cells in the late S or early G2 portion of the cell cycle. Etoposide is used in combination chemotherapy for the treatment of small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Teniposide (vm 26, Vumon)

Teniposide inhibits topoisomerase II and appears to cause DNA strand breakage, preventing mitosis. This agent is used in combination chemotherapy for the treatment of SCLC. Black box warnings for teniposide include myelosuppression and hypersensitivity reactions.