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What are cytostatic drugs?

Cytostatic is a word some doctors and researchers use to describe the way some anti cancer drugs work. 

Many cancer drugs aim to kill cancer cells. The word cytotoxic means toxic to cells, or cell killing. So chemotherapy is cytotoxic therapy.

Other treatments do not aim to kill cancer cells. They work by stopping the cancer cells from multiplying. So they stop the cancer growing. This is cytostatic therapy.  Cytostatic means 'cell stopping'.

For example, hormone therapies used to treat breast cancer are cytostatic therapies. Cancers grow because receptors on the cancer cells are triggered. The cancer cells then begin to divide into 2 new cells. By blocking these receptors with drugs like tamoxifen, the treatment stops the cancer from growing.

We are learning more about the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. Researchers have been able to identify specific proteins in cancer cells that they can block with new drugs called biological therapies. The aim is to create treatments that are better at stopping cancers from growing and have fewer side effects. So these are also called cytostatic therapies.

We have more information about the different types of cancer treatment

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Updated: 28 March 2014