Find out what decitabine is, how you have it and other important information about having decitabine.
Decitabine is a chemotherapy drug and is also known by its brand name, Dacogen.
It is a treatment for people who can't have the standard chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukaemia.
Decitabine is also used in clinical trials for a number of other cancers.
How it works
Decitabine 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.
How you have it
You have decitabine as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously).
The drip takes about 1 hour each time.
Drugs 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.
When you have it
You usually have decitabine as a course of several cycles of treatment. The number of cycles depends on your treatment plan. Most people have at least 4 cycles.
Each cycle takes 4 weeks. You start by having decitabine daily for 5 days. Then you don't have any treatment for the next 23 days. You then start the next treatment cycle. You continue with the treatment for as long as it is working.
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, 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.
Potassium and sodium in decitabine
This medicine contains potassium and sodium. Let your doctor know if you are on a controlled potassium or low sodium diet.
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. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Men must not father a child for at least 3 months after the end of treatment. Women should talk to their doctor about when it is safe to become pregnant after 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).
- 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.