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Fludarabine (Fludara)

Find out what fludarabine is, how you have it and other important information about having fludarabine.

What it is

Fludarabine is a chemotherapy drug and has the brand name Fludara. 

Fludarabine is mainly used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). It may also be used in trials for low grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), hairy cell leukaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia and a type of lymphoma that affects the skin called mycosis fungoides.

How fludarabine works

Fludarabine is one of a group of chemotherapy drugs known as anti metabolites. These stop cells making and repairing DNA. Cancer cells need to make and repair DNA in order to grow and multiply.

How you have fludarabine

You have fludarabine into the bloodstream or as tablets called Fludara oral.

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. 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.

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Swallow them whole with plenty of water. Don't chew or break them. You can take them on an empty stomach or with food.

When you have fludarabine

You usually have the treatment once a day for 5 consecutive days each month if you have it as a drip. You take the tablets once a day for 5 consecutive days each month.

You usually keep having fludarabine treatment until there is little or no sign of the abnormal leukaemia or lymphoma cells in your blood. This may be between 6 months and 2 years. 

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.

Your doctor will adjust the dose depending on how well the treatment is working. They may lower the dose or stop the treatment if it causes bad side effects.

Side effects

Find out about possible side effects of fludarabine and what to do if you have them.

Important information

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.

Breastfeeding

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.

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 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'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.

Information and help

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