Find out what azacitidine is, how you have it and other important information about having azacitidine.
Azacitidine is a cancer treatment and is also called by its brand name, Vidaza.
It is a treatment for people who can’t have high dose treatment with a stem cell transplant for the following conditions:
- chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML)
- acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
- myelodysplastic syndrome
How it works
Azacitidine is a type of drug called a hypomethylating agent. It works by switching off a protein called DNA methyltransferase.
This switches on genes that stop the cancer cells growing and dividing. This reduces the number of abnormal blood cells and helps to control cell growth.
How you have it
You usually have azacitidine as an injection just under your skin (subcutaneously) given by a doctor or nurse. This can be in your upper arm, leg, buttock or stomach.
You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection but they don't usually hurt much. The skin in the area may go red and itchy for a while.
When you have it
You usually have azacitidine as a course of several cycles of treatment.
You have treatment each day for a week and then 3 weeks with no treatment. This makes up a treatment cycle. You usually have at least 6 cycles and the treatment continues for as long as it is working.
You can also have it every day, for 5 days. Then have 2 days off and have azacitidine again for 2 days at the start of the next week.
Tests during treatment
You have blood tests before 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.
Other medicines, food 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 drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 3 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
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.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through into your breast milk.
Treatment for other conditions
Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists 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 shingles vaccine (Zostavax).
- have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- have the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections
Avoid close contact with people who’ve recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as oral polio or the typhoid vaccine.
This also includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s poo for up to 2 weeks and could make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.
You should also avoid close contact with children who have had the flu vaccine nasal spray if your immune system is severely weakened.
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.