Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)

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

Doxorubicin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat many different cancers.

How it 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 it

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.

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.

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

Find out about possible side effects of doxorubicin 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.

Blood clots

You are more at risk of developing a blood clot during treatment. Drink plenty of fluids and keep moving to help prevent clots.

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 the 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)

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. 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.

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.

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.

Related links