Vinblastine (chemotherapy agent)

Catharanthus roseus
photo by Ulhaspa

Vinblastine (abbreviated VLB and also known as Velban and Velsar), one of the older chemotherapeutic agents, was originally isolated from the plant Catharanthus roseus; it is therefore a natural alkaloid that falls into the chemotherapy drug category of vinca alkaloids. It disrupts the cell cycle in the M phase by binding itself to tubulin, thereby inhibiting microtubule formation1.

What it's effective for and why

Vinblastine is used in the treatment of a broad range of cancers although it is perhaps most notably known as a component of both the ABVD and Stanford V combination chemotherapy regimens for patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is also used against some non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (such as mycosis fungoides), testicular cancer, Kaposi's sarcoma, and Letterer-Siwe disease (a genetic form of histiocytosis).

Vinblastine is also sometimes used in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, bladder cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP, a condition in which a person's blood fails to clot during bleeding, and autoimmune hemolytic anemia (a type of anemia in which one's immune system attacks its own red blood cells)2, 3.

Side effects: Overview

Because vinblastine has been around for so long, its safety and efficacy profiles are fairly well-established. Common side effects include short-term nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, hair loss, and general headaches, fatigue, and oral blistering. Additional side effects, considered more severe, include peripheral neuropathy, fever, chills, muscle cramping, and redness or pain at the injection site4


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