AC

AC is the name of a chemotherapy combination. It includes the drugs we list below, next to each drug we have how you pronounce the drug name in brackets.

  • A - doxorubicin (docs-oh-roo-bi-sin) – this may also be called Adriamycin
  • C – cyclophosphamide (sike-low-foss-fa-mide)

It is a treatment for breast cancer. 

How does it work?

These chemotherapy drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.

How do you have AC?

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

If you don't have a central line

You might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm. You have a new cannula each time you have treatment.

How often do you have AC?

You have AC as cycles of treatment. This means that you have the drug and then a rest to allow your body to recover. Each cycle of treatment lasts 21 days (3 weeks). You might have 4-6 cycles of AC.

You usually have each cycle of treatment in the following way:

Day 1: You have doxorubicin as an injection or as a drip into your bloodstream. You have cyclophosphamide as an injection or as a drip into your bloodstream.

Day 2 to day 21: You have no treatment.

You usually also have a drug called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). This makes your bone marrow Open a glossary itemproduce white blood cells Open a glossary item more quickly after the chemotherapy. It helps lower your risk of getting an infection after having this treatment.

Your healthcare team will let you know what day to start your G-CSF injections.

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 AC?

Side effects can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. 

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you 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 (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

An increased risk of 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. 

Breathlessness  

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

An increased risk of bruising and bleeding

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).

Hair loss

You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarms, legs 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. 

Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis)

You might feel that you have to pass urine more often than usual or find it difficult to pass urine. And you may have a burning feeling when you do. Or you might feel that you can't wait when you need to go. This is called cystitis. 

It helps to drink plenty of fluids. Don't take any over the counter medicines for cystitis. Contact your advice line instead.

Tell your healthcare team if you have soreness. They can prescribe medicines to help.

You could also have blood in your urine. Your healthcare team might do urine tests to keep a check in this.

You might have red or pink urine for a few days after treatment, but this is only temporary. Your healthcare team can check it is from the doxorubicin and is not blood.

A high temperature (fever)

You might get a high temperature (fever) for a few hours after having this treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have a fever.

Chills or shivering

Talk to your healthcare team if you have either chills or shivering.

Loss of appetite

You might lose your appetite for various reasons while having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. It might help to avoid fatty or fried foods, eat small meals and snacks and take regular sips of water. Relaxation techniques might also 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 treat it once it has started.

Sore mouth and mouth ulcers

Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids and avoid acidic foods such as lemons. Chewing gum can help to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea. For example, in one day you have 2 or more loose bowel movements than usual. If you have a stoma, you might have more output than normal. Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment.

Try to eat small meals and snacks regularly. It’s best to try to have a healthy balanced diet if you can. You don’t necessarily need to stop eating foods that contain fibre. But if your diet is normally very high in fibre, it might help to cut back on high fibre foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, bran and raw vegetables. 

Drink plenty to try and replace the fluid lost. Aim for 8 to 10 glasses per day.

Skin and nails changes

The skin on your hands and feet may become sore, red, or may peel. You may also have tingling, numbness, pain and dryness. This is called hand-foot syndrome or palmar plantar syndrome.

Moisturise your skin regularly. Your healthcare team will tell you what moisturiser to use.

You might have a rash, itchy skin or skin that is more sensitive to light. You might have skin changes to an area where you have had radiotherapy before. You might notice some colour (pigment) changes to your skin.

You might have some nail colour changes or nails that have come away from the nail bed.

Talk to your healthcare team about skin and nail changes. They can advise about what can help.

Tiredness and weakness

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) can happen during and after treatment. Doing gentle exercises each day can keep your energy up. Don't push yourself, rest when you start to feel tired and ask others for help.

Heart changes

You should have tests to check how your heart is working before treatment. Some people may also have tests during and after treatment.

Liver changes

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

Weight gain

You may gain weight while having this treatment. You may be able to control it with diet and exercise. Tell your healthcare team if you are finding it difficult to control your weight. 

Inflammation around the drip site

Tell your nurse straight away if you have any pain, redness, swelling or leaking around your drip site.

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:

  • inflammation of the lining of your throat, stomach, gut (intestines), food pipe (oesophagus) and bowel
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • sore, red, itchy eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • uncontrolled bleeding

Rare side effects

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

  • an allergic reaction
  • a small chance of developing a second cancer including acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), bladder cancer, kidney cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
  • a change to the amounts of chemicals in your blood caused by the breakdown of the cancer cells this can affect how your heart and kidneys work. If you are at risk of this happening you might have extra fluids with your chemotherapy
  • dizziness
  • an excessive uncontrolled release of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH) causing feeling sick, loss of appetite, sore muscles and weakness
  • not enough fluid in the body (dehydration)
  • changes to your eyesight including visual impairment
  • inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
  • chest pain
  • flushing
  • deafness
  • numbness and tingling in your hands and feet
  • changes to the nerves in your body or nerve pain
  • thickening and hardening of a vein wall
  • ulcers or damage to the bowel wall
  • blocked artery (embolism)
  • lower levels of female sex hormones

Other side effects

If you have side effects that aren't listed on this page, you can look at the individual drug pages:

Coping with side effects

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

What else should I know?

Other medicines, food and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with medicines, herbal products, and some food and drinks. We are unable to list all the possible interactions that may happen. An example is grapefruit or grapefruit juice which can increase the side effects of certain drugs.

Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Also let them know about any other medical conditions or allergies you may have.

Loss of fertility

You may not be able to become pregnant or get someone pregnant 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.    

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or get someone pregnant while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least a year afterwards.

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

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment. This is because the drugs may come through in your breast milk.

Treatment for other conditions

If you are having tests or treatment for anything else, always mention your cancer treatment. For example, if you are visiting your dentist.

Immunisation

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. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.

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 and possible side effects go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website. You can find the patient information leaflet on this 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