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Hydroxycarbamide (Hydrea)

Read about hydroxycarbamide, how you have it and other important information about taking this chemotherapy drug.

Hydroxycarbamide is used to treat: 

  • chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  • cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of the womb)

For cervical cancer it is given in combination with radiotherapy.

Hydroxycarbamide may also sometimes be used to treat other types of cancer such as:

  • acute myeloid leukaemia
  • head and neck cancers
  • ovarian cancer

How it works

Hydroxycarbamide is one of a group of chemotherapy drugs known as anti metabolites. These drugs stop cells making and repairing DNA. Cancer cells need to make and repair DNA in order to grow and multiply.

How you have it

Hydroxycarbamide comes as 500mg capsules. Your doctor might ask you to take these in one dose or in several doses during the day.

Swallow your tablets whole with a glass of water. If you have difficulty swallowing capsules, you can empty the contents of the capsules into a glass of water. Then drink it all straight away. Don't leave any behind in the glass.

You usually have hydroxycarbamide as a course of several cycles of treatment. Sometimes there might be a break between cycles.

When you have hydroxycarbamide and how often depends on your type of cancer and your situation.

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

Important information

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.


Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.


You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future. Men may be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Women may be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue but this is rare.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.


Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and Zostavax (shingles vaccine).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid contact with people who’ve had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines). This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s urine for up to 2 weeks and can make you ill. So, you mustn't change their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination.

You also need to avoid anyone who has had oral polio or typhoid vaccination recently.


Check with your doctor to see if drinking alcohol may harm you while having this treatment. 

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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