All the drugs have two names

File this under “things I sort of knew, but sort of forgot,” and “never be afraid to ask a question”: all commercially available drugs have two names, a brand name and a generic name. Yes, I did know that Excedrin and aspirin are a brand name and a generic name for the same thing, but somehow in cancer treatment, where the unfamiliar drug names were flying fast and furious, I forgot.

It was a big relief to finally realize that, although there are many drugs out there, many of which might be considered in my treatment plan, there are actually only about half the number I first thought. Doctors and patients use the generic and brand names interchangeably, so it’s helpful to know both names to be able to follow the conversation. Knowing both names is also handy when you suddenly feel nauseous and want someone to bring you the Compazine, since none of the bottles in the medicine cabinet may say Compazine.

Some of the basics:


  • Decadron=dexamethasone
  • Deltasone=prednisone

Chemotherapy drugs

  • Alimta=pemetrexed
  • Avastin=bevacizumab
  • Folex=methotrexate
  • Gemzar=gemzitabine hydrochloride
  • Paraplatin=carboplatin
  • Platinol=cisplatin
  • Taxol=paclitaxel

Genetically targeted medicines

  • Iressa=gefitinib
  • Tarceva=erlotinib
  • Xalkori=crizotinib

Anti-nausea medications

  • Ativan=lorazepam
  • Compazine=prochlorperazine
  • Zofran=ondansetron

Note: You may hear about or take drugs that are still in clinical trials and not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These drugs have only one name, such as LDK-378. The brand name is added when a drug comes on the market.

About Irene Elizabeth (Beth!) Stroud

Queer suburban mom, graduate student, lung cancer survivor, card-carrying United Methodist.
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3 Responses to All the drugs have two names

  1. To further complicate: all drugs start out with a third name — usually a combo of the company’s initials + numbers.

  2. Or actually, that’s the first name, followed by generic, followed by brand.

  3. istroud says:

    Good point, Scott. Does it get the generic name when it goes on the market, too?

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