Mechlorethamine (chemotherapy drug)

Mechloethamine chemical structure

Say hello to the drug that launched modern-day anticancer chemotherapy, mechlorethamine. This drug is a nitrogen-based analogue of the chemical weapon known as mustard gas. Its anticancer quality was discovered in 1942 by accident, when the blood of soldiers exposed to mustard gas were found to have massively depleted white blood cells. It was then that researchers saw the possibility of mechlorethamine in the treatment of cancers in which white blood cells proliferated out of control—notably, leukemias and lymphomas.

Mechlorethamine Drug profile

  • Class: Classic alkylating agent
  • Mechanism of action: Mechlorethamine works by adding an alkyl group to the DNA of a dividing cell, causing DNA strands to break and leading to cell death.
  • Treatment type: Chemotherapy
  • US approval: 1949
  • Synonyms: Mustargen, Nitrogen mustard
  • FDA Use-in-Pregnancy Rating: Category D

What Mechlorethamine is effective for and why

Mechlorethamine is not used as often as it once was, but today is still used chiefly in combination chemotherapy (namely the MOPP regimen) against Hodgkins lymphoma, as well as used topically in the treatment of mycosis fungoides, a type of cutaneous non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The drug has also been used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia and some lung cancers.

Mechlorethamine side effects

While each patient will have his or her own experiences with the side effects of mechlorethamine, some of the more common side effects include an allergic reaction, flu-like symptoms, blood in the urine, symptoms similar to gout (i.e. joint pain) due to an increase of uric acid in the blood, nausea and/or vomiting, vertigo, mouth sores, hair loss, and loss of appetite.

Most if not all of these side effects should subside when one is finished with receiving mechlorethamine. Patients are encouraged to report all side effects to their oncologist or oncology team.


  • Boyiadzis, Michael M. et al. Hematology-Oncology Therapy. 2007. New York: McGraw Hill, Medical Publishing Division.
  • Guide to Cancer Drugs, American Cancer Society
  • Cancer Drug Manual, BC Cancer Agency
  • Perry, Michael C, Editor. Companion Handbook to the Chemotherapy Sourcebook. 1999. Baltimore; Williams & Wilkins.
  • Mechlorethamine

Significant studies relating to mechlorethamine


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