Lung Cancer Home > What Is Mechlorethamine Used For?

How Does This Medicine Work?

Mechlorethamine is part of a group of medications called alkylating agents. In general, alkylating agents work by causing strands of DNA to bond to each other and become linked (this is known as "cross-linking"). The linked strands cannot uncoil and separate, which is necessary for the DNA to replicate. Because DNA replication is essential for cells to grow and multiply, alkylating agents like mechlorethamine prevent cell growth and multiplication, and may cause cell death.
While mechlorethamine can kill both healthy and cancerous cells, it has a greater effect on cells that are multiplying rapidly. Generally, cancer cells multiply more rapidly than healthy cells and are, therefore, more affected by the drug. However, some healthy cells also multiply rapidly, including blood cells, stomach and intestinal cells, and cells in the mouth and hair follicles. When healthy cells are destroyed by mechlorethamine, serious side effects can occur.

Can Children Use It?

Mechlorethamine is not approved for use in children, and has not been adequately studied in this age group. This medicine may slow down the growth of children. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about the particular benefits and risks of using this medicine in children.

Is It Safe for Older Adults to Use Mechlorethamine?

There were not enough older adults in mechlorethamine clinical trials to determine whether they responded any differently to this medicine than younger age groups. Mechlorethamine can be used in older adults. However, older adults may be more sensitive to the side effects of the medication, and may need to be started on lower doses and monitored more closely.

What About Off-Label Uses?

On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend this medicine for something other than the uses discussed in this article. This is called an "off-label" use. Mechlorethamine may be prescribed off-label for the following reasons:
  • As a topical medicine (a cream, lotion, or ointment) to treat skin lesions from cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
  • To treat brain tumors
  • To treat Langerhans cell histiocytosis
  • To treat actinic reticuloid (also called chronic actinic dermatitis), a rare skin condition.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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