Find out what doxorubicin is, how you have it and other important information about having doxorubicin.
Doxorubicin is a chemotherapy drug and is also known by its brand name Adriamycin.
It is a treatment for many different types of cancer.
How doxorubicin works
Doxorubicin is a type of chemotherapy drug called an anthracycline. It slows or stops the growth of cancer cells by blocking an enzyme called topo isomerase 2. Cancer cells need this enzyme to divide and grow.
You might have doxorubicin in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.
How you have doxorubicin
You have doxorubicin into your bloodstream.
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.
Into the bladder
Sometimes, doxorubicin may be given directly into the bladder to treat cancer of the bladder lining. This is called intravesical chemotherapy and the side effects are different to doxorubicin given into a vein.
When you have it
You usually have this type of chemotherapy as a course of several cycles of treatment. The number of cycles you have depends on your treatment plan.
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.
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 6 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.
If you have had radiotherapy
Tell your doctor if you have had radiotherapy treatment to your chest that might have been near to or involving your heart. This could increase the risk of heart damage from doxorubicin and your doctor will need to take this into account.
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.