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Mitomycin C is a drug primarily used in chemotherapy to treat a large number of cancers. In this capacity it is usually given intravenously for cancer in the head and neck area, lung and breast cancer, cancer of the uterus and cervix, as well as rectal, colon, pancreatic and stomach cancers. It is often used as an infusion into the bladder or peritoneum as a topical medication. Used topically after eye surgery or following esophageal or tracheal dilatation for stenosis, it appears to decrease scarring.
Drugs are put into categories, some according to their chemical and therapeutic attributes. Mitomycin C is in several categories that give insight into the way it works, both in anti-cancer and anti-scarring capacities. The first category, officially called immunomodulating agents, indicates that the drug can either improve or abolish immune system processes. The next category, antineoplastic agents, is for substances that can prevent or inhibit the growth of abnormal tissues.
Mitomycin C is also classified as a cytotoxic antibiotic. This means it is an antibiotic — a drug that can kill bacteria, or slow its growth through its toxic effect on certain cells. Another characteristic of mitomycin C that isn’t given a specific classification is acting as an alkylating agent by altering the genes of cells that are rapidly dividing — as cancer cells do — causing certain cells to die.
Two other functions have a genetic effect. One function is as a cross-linking reagent; it links DNA strands, damaging them in a way that prevents them from functioning correctly or replicating until they are repaired. The other function is to inhibit ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) cell production.
People may be frightened of chemotherapy because of its side effects. Commonly known side effects of many chemotherapy drugs, including mitomycin C, are hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and other stomach problems. These are annoying and somewhat debilitating, but generally not life-threatening. More serious side effects of mitomycin C are lung problems, particularly lung fibrosis, which is scarring of the lung tissues; reduced blood cell production; and cancer-associated hemolytic-uremic syndrome (C-HUS), which primarily consists of kidney and blood problems. Physicians may monitor for these problems through chest X-rays, and blood and urine tests, especially those that indicate how the kidney is functioning.
Mitomycin C may be used alone as a single chemotherapy drug. It also may be combined with other drugs, which vary according to the kind of cancer being treated. When battling metastatic rectal cancer, it may be combined with fluorouracil and leucovorin. In treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer, it may be joined with cisplatin and vindesine. Intravenous treatments are most often given every six to eight weeks.