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What is a Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor?

Article Details
  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2020
    Conjecture Corporation
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A tyrosine kinase inhibitor is a potent medication used to treat some types of cancers that do not respond well to other treatment options. The drug works by blocking the activity of specific enzymes that cancer cells need to divide and replicate. There are several dozen different types of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and doctors choose the most appropriate drugs to use based on their patients' specific conditions, overall health, and allergies. In the majority of cases, tyrosine kinase inhibitor use is effective at slowing or stopping the growth of malignant tumors in the body.

Tyrosine kinase enzymes are vital components of most types of cells in the body. In combination with other enzymes and proteins, tyrosine kinases transmit signals that trigger a cell to split its DNA and replicate. In a healthy cell, the enzyme is only active when replication is needed. Tyrosine kinases in cancerous cells, however, are always active. The result is constant uncontrolled cell replication that eventually leads to the formation of a tumor.

Cancer cell replication can be controlled with the use of a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. The drug attaches to an enzyme and prevents it from signaling the start of the cell division process. As a result, cells stop proliferating so wildly and existing malignant cells start to expire. Inhibitor drugs are sometimes capable of fully eradicating cancer from the body, or at least making the condition more manageable in late-stage patients.

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A doctor may choose to try a tyrosine kinase inhibitor to combat a cancer that cannot be removed surgically. Common inoperable conditions include blood and bone marrow cancers such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. An inhibitor drug may also be useful for solid tumors that would be too risky to operate on, such as masses that form in the brain or in other vital organs. Since there are major risks of negative reactions and side effects, inhibitors are generally reserved for patients who do not get better with standard chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Patients who take tyrosine kinase inhibitors may experience a number of side effects. Common problems include headaches, weakness, nausea, and diarrhea. A person may also have flu-like symptoms of joint and muscle aches, fever, and chills. In some cases, more serious complications such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, allergic reactions, and anemia can occur.

Inhibitor drugs are often very effective at destroying cancer cells. They are not capable of only targeting malignancies, however, and healthy cells may suffer when a tyrosine kinase inhibitor is used. The most significant problem with the drug is risk of damaging healthy white blood cells, vital components of the immune system. During therapy, patients are extremely immunocompromised and need to take precautions against becoming exposed to bacteria and viruses. By attending regular checkups and following a doctor's recommendations, it is usually possible to avoid serious complications and reap only positive outcomes from therapy.

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