Find out what irinotecan is, how you have it and other important information.
Irinotecan is a chemotherapy drug used to treat many different types of cancer.
Irinotecan works by blocking an enzyme, called topoisomerase I. Cells need this enzyme to divide and grow. Irinotecan blocks this enzyme so the cancer cells can't divide.
How you have irinotecan chemotherapy
You have irinotecan as cycles of treatment. Your treatment plan depends on whether you’re having irinotecan on its own or with other chemotherapy drugs.
You have irinotecan as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously). Each treatment takes between 30 and 90 minutes.
You can have it through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.
You can also have it through a long line - a central line, a PICC line or a portacath.
These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.
When you have treatment
You might have irinotecan every 2 or 3 weeks. Each 2 or 3 week period is a cycle of treatment.
Tests during treatment
You have blood tests before starting treatment 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
Irinotecan may have a harmful effect on a developing baby so you should not become pregnant or father a child whilst taking this drug. Talk to your doctor or nurse about contraception before beginning treatment if there is any possibility that you or your partner could become pregnant. Women need to continue with reliable contraception for a month after treatment ends and men need to continue for 3 months.
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 in 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.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and 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'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.