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What’s Vinorelbine?

Commonly used as a chemotherapy treatment, vinorelbine is meant for aggressive cancers like metastatic breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, and mesothelioma. The medication comes from the alkaloids extracted from the rosy periwinkle plant, scientifically known as Catharanthus roseus.

French pharmacist Pierre Potier and his team invented the chemotherapy medication in the 1980s. France approved the medication in 1989 for lung cancer treatment and for breast cancer treatment in 1991.

The United States first approved vinorelbine for non-small cell lung cancer treatment in 1994. The medication remains on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

Cancer patients often use Navelbine, a brand name of vinorelbine.

How Vinorelbine Works

Cancerous tumors spread by cell division (mitosis). The function of vinorelbine is to stop cell division by disrupting the body’s microtubules, which are structures that contribute to cell production.

Chemotherapy cannot tell the difference between cancerous cells and healthy cells, leading to its side effects. While the medication stops the spread of malignant blood cells, mitosis of healthy cells slows.

Doctors administer the chemotherapy by injection into a vein or by mouth. Patients typically receive the medication in six-week cycles with a combination of another chemotherapy drug, depending on the patient’s health.

Palliative Therapy

Doctors may use vinorelbine as a form of palliative therapy to improve the quality of life for mesothelioma patients who may not tolerate other cancer treatments.

Second-Line Therapy

Doctors may use vinorelbine as second-line therapy in patients with recurrent mesothelioma who have already received standard chemotherapy as a treatment option.

Side Effects

Since the treatment disrupts normal cell function, some patients may experience side effects. However, most patients do not experience all of the side effects, and most doctors can predict how long they will last.

Side effects do not influence the effectiveness of the medication, and there are options to minimize or prevent them. About 30 percent of patients receiving this treatment experience side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Low blood counts
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue

Less common side effects are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Low platelet counts (cell fragments that help clot the blood)
  • Numbness in fingers and toes (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Pain among the administration site

Organ Toxicity

This treatment is typically low in toxicity compared to other chemotherapy treatments. However, the medication may affect specific organs in the body.

Neurologic

Mild to moderate nerve damage may occur in patients who use this form of treatment, resulting in reduced or abnormal touch sensation.

Dermatologic

About 12 percent of patients who are administered this medication experience mild, sudden hair loss. Patients may also experience injection site reactions, including pain or vein discoloration.

Respiratory

Some patients may experience shortness of breath during or after treatment.

Next Steps

If you have mesothelioma and want to learn more about vinorelbine, talk to your doctor or oncologist right away. To learn more about mesothelioma treatment options, download our free mesothelioma guide.

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