Chemotherapy Drugs 101: Vinca alkaloids


The word instills terror, invokes images of hair loss, weakness, sickness. It can be an extraordinarily trying time, for patients and their caregivers. The literally hundreds of different drugs used in chemotherapy treatment can be daunting. In order to try and remove some of the terror and mystery of chemo, I'm going to use this blog to take an occasional look at the various groups of drugs used in chemo—their names, what they are, and what they do—to cancer cells and to our bodies.

In this entry I'll be looking at a couple of the so-called vinca alkaloids. Unlike the anti-metabolites, which work during the S phase of the cell cycle, vinca alkaloids go to work during the M phase of the cell cycle, or the mitotic phase. In this phase, a cell divides into two genetically identical cells. Mitotic inhibitors like vinca alkaloids disrupt this division by suppressing the protein tubulin, which a cell requires in order to divide.

Unfortunately, like other chemotherapy drugs that disrupt the growth of cells, vinca alkaloids are indiscriminate and can affect healthy cells as well. Such is the trade-off in chemotherapy treatments.

The following are some of the primary vinca alkaloids used in lymphomas such as Hodgkin's Lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Click on the drug to be taken to the American Cancer Society's patient page for that drug, which contains general information as well as potential side effects.

Vincristine (marketed as Oncovin, Vincasar PFS, Vincrex, vincristine sulfate, and VCR). Vincristine is part of the CHOP regimen, as well as MOPP, COPP, and BEACOPP regimens.

Vinblastine (marketed as Velban, Velbe, Velsar, vincaleukoblastine (VLB), vinblastine sulfate). Vinblastine Is a chemical analogue of vincristine and is used in the ABVD regimen for treating Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Vindesine (marketed as Eldisine). Vindesine is used to treat leukemias, lymphomas and other cancers.

Note: The World Health Organization's Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (ATC) classifies vinca alkaloids as L01CA.

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