Doxorubicin and ifosfamide

Doxorubicin and ifosfamide is a chemotherapy drug combination.

Doxorubicin (also known as Adriamycin) is pronounced doks-oh-ROO-bi-sin. And ifosfamide is pronounced eye-FOSS-fa-mide.

It is a treatment for soft tissue sarcomas.

How do doxorubicin and ifosfamide work?

These cancer drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.

How do you have doxorubicin and ifosfamide?

You usually have both drugs into your bloodstream (intravenously).

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

If you don't have a central line

You might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

How often do you have doxorubicin and ifosfamide?

You have doxorubicin and ifosfamide as cycles of treatment. This means you have the drugs and then a rest to allow your body to recover.

Each cycle of treatment lasts 21 days (3 weeks). You usually have up to 6 cycles in total. Your doctor will discuss the length of your treatment with you.

You might have each cycle of treatment in the following way:

Day 1 to 3
  • You have doxorubicin as an injection (bolus) into your bloodstream over 10 minutes.
  • You have ifosfamide as a drip over 4 hours.
Day 4 to 21
  • You have no treatment.

You then start the next cycle

Mesna and GCSF

You usually have ifosfamide with another drug called mesna. You have mesna either as a drip (infusion) into your bloodstream or as tablets.

Mesna is not a chemotherapy drug. It stops the ifosfamide from irritating your bladder and making the lining bleed.

You usually also have a drug called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF). This makes your bone marrow produce white blood cells more quickly after the chemotherapy. You need white blood cells to protect you against infections.

Tests

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.

You will also have tests to check how well your heart works.

Side effects

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.

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

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include: 

Increased risk of infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

Bruising and bleeding

This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).

Breathlessness

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Hair loss

You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. Your hair will usually grow back once treatment has finished but it is likely to be softer. It may grow back a different colour or be curlier than before. 

Loss of appetite

You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

A sore mouth and throat and inflammation of the food pipe (oesophagus)

You might get a sore mouth and mouth ulcers. It may be painful to swallow drinks or food. You will have mouthwashes to keep your mouth healthy.

You can have painkillers to reduce the soreness. Take them half an hour before meals to make eating easier.

Less commonly, you might have inflammation of the food pipe (oesophagus).

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.

Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

Soreness, redness and peeling on palms and soles of feet

The skin on your hands and feet may become sore, red, or may peel. You may also have tingling, numbness, pain and dryness. This is called hand-foot syndrome or palmar plantar syndrome.

Moisturise your skin regularly. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what moisturiser to use.

Tiredness and weakness

You might feel very tired and as though you lack energy.

Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

Heart changes

You may have changes to how your heart works such as your heart rhythm. Tests such as a heart trace (ECG) might pick this up.

Liver changes

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

Inflammation of the bladder

Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) can cause pain and occasionally blood when passing urine. 

Contact your advice line straight away if you see blood in your urine.

You have a drug called Mesna to help protect your bladder during treatment.

Kidney changes

You might have some changes in the way your kidneys work. You have regular blood tests to check how well they are working.

Kidney changes can include acute kidney failure. This means your kidneys stop working suddenly. Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you have breathlessness, tiredness and swelling of the body due to fluid build up.

Red or pink urine

You might have red or pink urine. This won't harm you. It’s due to the colour of the chemotherapy and lasts for one or two days.

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • an eye infection (conjunctivitis) – your eyes may feel gritty, itchy, sticky from pus, watery and look red
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • a skin rash that can be itchy and raised
  • darkened skin or nails
  • a skin and tissue reaction at the drip site causing severe stinging or burning pain – tell your nurse or doctor straight away if this happens
  • inflammation of a vein, causing pain and tenderness along the vein

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (less than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • blood clots that are life threatening; signs are pain, swelling and redness where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot on the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • low blood pressure that can cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy

Other side effects

There isn't enough information to work out how often these side effects might happen. You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • a second cancer such as leukaemia or lymphoma
  • heart problems months or years after finishing treatment
  • an allergic reaction that can cause a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face and dizziness - some allergic reactions can be life threatening. Alert your nurse or doctor if you notice any of these symptoms
  • small blood clots developing throughout the bloodstream, blocking small blood vessels (disseminated intravascular coagulation)
  • changes to the levels of chemicals in your blood due to the breakdown of tumour cells (tumour lysis syndrome) – you will have regular blood tests to check this
  • mental health changes
  • seizures (fits)
  • a heart attack
  • scarring of the lungs or fluid building up in the lungs causing them not to get enough air. Less oxygen reaches the bloodstream causing breathing problems
  • a severe skin reaction that may start as tender red patches which leads to peeling or blistering of the skin. You might also feel feverish and your eyes may be more sensitive to light. This is serious and could be life threatening

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.

Sodium

This drug contains sodium (salt). You might need to take account of this if you are on a controlled sodium diet. Tell your doctor if you are on a low salt diet. 

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment 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.

Women must not become pregnant for at least a year after the end of treatment. Men should not father a child for at least 6 months after treatment. 

Breastfeeding

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

Loss of fertility

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with these drugs. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.    

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.

Immunisations

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 one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.

You can have:

  • other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • the flu vaccine (as an injection)
  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment

Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your immune system Open a glossary item recovers from treatment.

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can 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 the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

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.

Related links