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Hydroxycarbamide (Hydrea)

Find out what hydroxycarbamide is, how you have it and other important information about taking hydroxycarbamide.

Hydroxycarbamide is a chemotherapy treatment and is also known by its brand name, Hydrea.  

It is a treatment for:

  • chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  • cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of the womb)

For cervical cancer, it is usually given in combination with radiotherapy. Hydroxycarbamide may also sometimes be used to treat other types of cancer such as:

  • acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
  • head and neck cancers
  • ovarian cancer

How it works

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

How you have it

Hydroxycarbamide comes as capsules that you swallow whole, with a glass of water. You can empty the contents of the capsules into a glass of water if you have difficulty swallowing capsules. Then drink it all straight away. Don't leave any behind in the glass.

You can take hydroxycarbamide with or without food. 

Taking your capsules

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

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

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

If you take more hydroxycarbamide than you should

Contact your doctor or nurse straight away. 

If you forget to take hydroxycarbamide

Do not take the missed dose and take your next dose at the usual time. Do not take a double dose to make up for the forgotten dose.

When you have it

You usually have hydroxycarbamide as a course of several cycles of treatment. Sometimes there might be a break between cycles.

You can have hydroxycarbamide in combination with radiotherapy. When this happens, you usually start taking hydroxycarbamide 7 days before the radiotherapy treatment.

When you have hydroxycarbamide and how often depends on your cancer type. Your doctor can tell you more about this. 

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.

Side effects

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.

Check with your doctor to see if drinking alcohol may harm you while having this treatment. 

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you're having treatment and for a few 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.

Fertility

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.

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. 

Lactose

This drug contains lactose (milk sugar). If you have an intolerance to lactose, contact your doctor before taking this medicine.

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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