L-Asparaginase is a chemotherapy drug that’s used in veterinary medicine to help treat cats and dogs that are suffering from certain types of cancers known to affect the immune system, but predominantly in the treatment of lymphoma. Although L-Asparaginase is used for treating both cats and dogs, it is most commonly associated with treatment therapies for feline lymphoma. It has also been used to treat mast cell tumors in cats.

What Is the Role of Asparaginase in Cancer?

All cells need asparaginase in order to produce protein. But whereas healthy cells need only a little bit of the enzyme, cancer cells require tremendous amounts of it in order to thrive. And whereas healthy cells can produce the asparaginase they need internally, cancer cells have to acquire it from outside sources.

How L-Asparaginase Works

Because cancer cells need outside sources of asparaginase in order to live, removing the enzyme essentially starves the cancer cells. L-Asparaginase is a fast-acting cancer treatment because it eradicates any asparaginase outside of the cells. Once the little asparaginase within the cancer cell is used up, it can’t be replenished, and as a result, it dies.

Possible Side Effects of L-Asparaginase

Asparaginase is usually administered as part of a more complete cancer treatment therapy. Therefore, it can produce several uncomfortable side effects in the patient. These can include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mild anemia, and elevated blood sugar levels.

L-Asparaginase Considerations

L-Asparaginase and methotrexate tend to counteract each other. As a result, if the patient is prescribed both of these medications, the veterinarian will usually order their doses to be administered at least 48 hours apart.

Patients who are pregnant or nursing should not be prescribed this medication unless the benefit outweighs the risks. Long-term use of L-Asparaginase can result in the patient building up a resistance to the drug. Therefore, it is almost always used alongside other forms of chemotherapy. In fact, when used as a sole cancer treatment, L-Asparaginase only has a success rate of 30%. But when it’s used in tandem with drugs like prednisolone, chlorambucil, and/or cyclophosphamide, then it delivers far greater positive results.

If the patient suffers from liver, blood, kidney, or pancreatic disorders or gastrointestinal or neurological problems, then this medication should be used with extreme caution.

Dosage and Administration of L-Asparaginase

The dosage and method of administration for L-Asparaginase can only be determined by the animal’s treating veterinarian. The medication is most commonly administered as an injection or intravenously. Specific doses depend on the pet’s health and medical history, as well as a variety of other factors.

Despite L-Asparaginase’s fast-acting cancer-killing abilities, the medication is commonly reserved for the patient’s later treatment strategies. This is the case because many veterinarians want to save it as a back-up treatment, in case the initial course of chemotherapy treatments don’t work.

Author: Giano Panzarella