Ifosfamide (Mitoxana)

Ifosfamide is a chemotherapy drug used to treat many different types of cancer. You usually have ifosfamide in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or you might have it on its own.

How does ifosfamide work?

Ifosfamide works by sticking the cancer cell’s DNA Open a glossary item (the cell’s genetic code) together so that it can't come apart again. This means that the cell can't divide and grow.

How do you have ifosfamide?

You have ifosfamide into your bloodstream as a drip into a vein (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

You always have a drug called mesna with ifosfamide. You either have this through your drip in a separate bag, before or after the ifosfamide, or they can be mixed together in one bag.

Usually you have a lot of fluid too, so the drugs take a long time to go through the drip. You may need to stay overnight at the hospital.

How often do you have ifosfamide?

You usually have ifosfamide as a course of several cycles of treatment Open a glossary item. Each cycle varies depending on what type of cancer you have. Your doctor or nurse will 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.

What are the side effects of ifosfamide?

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 advice line 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 getting an 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, bleeding gums or nosebleeds

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).

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.

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. 

Kidney damage

To help prevent kidney damage, it is important to drink plenty of water. You might also have fluids into your vein before, during and after treatment. You have blood tests before your treatments to check how well your kidneys are working.

Inflammation and irritation of the bladder

Ifosfamide can cause inflammation and bleeding of the bladder lining. This is called haemorrhagic cystitis. This can cause you to:

  • pass urine more often than usual
  • find it difficult to pass urine
  • have a burning feeling or pain when you go
  • not be able to wait when you need to go
  • pass blood or blood clots 

It helps to drink plenty of fluids. 

Tell your nurse or doctor straight away if you have any problems passing urine.

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:

  • loss of appetite
  • changes to how your liver works - you will have blood tests to check how well your liver works
  • inflammation of the vein

Rare side effects

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

  • heart changes
  • low blood pressure - symptoms include feeling dizzy, sick, confused, feeling weak and tired
  • diarrhoea
  • sore mouth
  • tiredness and weakness (fatigue)

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 serious reaction to an infection - signs can include feeling very unwell, not passing urine, being sick, a very high or very low temperature or shivering - contact your advice line straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • 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
  • blood clots that can be life threatening; signs are pain, redness and swelling where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot in the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • 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 notice any of these symptoms
  • another cancer
  • swelling under the skin
  • SIADH – a syndrome where the body makes too much of the hormone that holds water in the body
  • changes to the levels of chemicals in your blood due to the breakdown of tumour cells (tumour lysis syndrome) - you have regular blood tests to check for this
  • abnormal thirst causing you to drink excessive amounts of fluids
  • imbalance of substances in your blood (metabolic acidosis) – it can cause confusion, tiredness, shortness of breath and headaches
  • changes to your mental state such as panic attacks and not being able to speak
  • seizures (fits)
  • changes to how your brain works
  • not being able to control your bowels
  • changes to how you move and walk
  • changes to your nerves causing burning, prickling sensation or a decrease in sensation and loss of muscle control causing flapping hands
  • eye problems such as red, sore eyes and problems with your eyesight
  • leaking of the proteins and fluid out of the blood vessels into the tissues
  • breathing problems including lung inflammation, cough and fluid on the lungs
  • an organ or organs in your body such as your kidneys stop working causing sickness, severe pain, fits, swelling and chest pain
  • slow wound healing. If you need to have an operation your doctor will normally stop the ifosfamide for a while beforehand. They will let you know when you can start having it again.

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

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.

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.

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. 

Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment. Let them know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant while having treatment.

Loss of 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 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.    

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 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.

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