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Daunorubicin is a chemotherapy drug, it is used to treat acute leukaemias.

How daunorubicin works

Daunorubicin is a type of chemotherapy called an anti tumour antibiotic. It blocks an enzyme called topoisomerase 2, so the cancer cell's DNA gets tangled up and the cell can't split into 2 new cells.

How you have daunorubicin

You have daunorubicin into your bloodstream. It is a red liquid.

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm or hand. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

You have the drug injected into a fast running drip connected to your cannula or central line over about 10 minutes. 

When you have daunorubicin

You usually have daunorubicin chemotherapy as a course of several cycles of treatment. How often and when you have it depends on which type of leukaemia you have.


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.

Side effects

We haven't listed all the side effects. It's very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

Possible side effects

You might have one or more of these side effects:

  • increased risk of getting an infection
  • breathlessness and looking pale
  • bruising, bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • tiredness and weakness (fatigue)
  • feeling or being sick
  • hair loss
  • sore mouth
  • red or pink urine for a few days after treatment
  • inflammation of mucous membranes, such as inside the mouth, nose, vagina or back passage (rectum)
  • allergic reaction
  • inflammation, pain and swelling at the drip site
  • high temperature (fever) and chills
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • periods stopping
  • dehydration
  • heart damage
  • severe infection (sepsis)

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do I need to know?

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 drug can harm a baby developing in the womb. You should avoid becoming pregnant, or fathering a child during treatment, and for 6 months after treatment. 

Talk to your team about reliable 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 up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

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

You can:

  • 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 have had live vaccines as injections

Avoid close contact with people who have 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.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.