Nelarabine (Atriance)

Nelarabine is a type of chemotherapy drug. It is pronounced nel-ar-a-been. It is also called Atriance.

It is a treatment for:  

  • a type of leukaemia called T cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia 
  • a type of lymphoma called T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma

Leukaemia and lymphoma are types of blood cancer. Find out about these types of blood cancer.

How does nelarabine work?

Nelarabine is from a group of chemotherapy drugs known as antimetabolites. It stops cells making and repairing DNA Open a glossary item. Cancer cells need to make and repair DNA so they can grow and multiply.

How do you have nelarabine?

You have nelarabine as a drip (infusion) into your bloodstream (intravenously). 

Into your bloodstream

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 nelarabine?

You usually have nelarabine as a course of 1 or 2 cycles of treatment Open a glossary item. Each cycle of treatment lasts 21 days (3 weeks). 

You have each treatment cycle in the following way: 

Day 1
  • You have nelarabine as a drip into your bloodstream over 2 hours
Day 2
  • You have no treatment
Day 3
  • You have nelarabine as a drip into your bloodstream
Day 4
  • You have no treatment
Day 5
  • You have nelarabine as a drip into your bloodstream
Day 6 to 21
  • You have no treatment

Then you start the next treatment cycle. 

Nelarabine for children and young adults

Children usually have nelarabine once a day for 5 days. Doctors will discuss treatment with those teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 years. They may have treatment once a day for 5 days. Or they may have treatment as an adult explained above.

Treatment to stop the build up of uric acid

As well as nelarabine, you might also have a fluid drip and tablets to help stop the build up of uric acid Open a glossary item. Uric acid can build up in your body when cancer cells are broken down quickly and can cause kidney damage.

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

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 (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. 

Breathlessness and looking pale 

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

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).

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue)

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.

Headaches

Tell your healthcare team if you keep getting headaches. They can give you painkillers to help.

Dizziness

This drug might make you feel dizzy. Don’t drive or operate machinery if you have this.

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.

Constipation

Constipation Open a glossary item is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your healthcare team if you think you are constipated. They can prescribe a laxative.

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.

Fluid build up (oedema)

A build up of fluid may cause swelling in your arms, hands, ankles, legs, face and other parts of the body. Contact your healthcare team if this happens to you.

Drowsiness 

This drug may make you feel drowsy or dizzy. Don’t drive or operate machinery if you have this.

If you get very sleepy or are difficult to wake, contact your doctor straight away.

Numbness and tingling in fingers or toes 

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your healthcare team if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons. 

You may also have abnormal skin sensations such as burning, prickling or a sensation of something crawling on the skin.

Shortness of breath and cough

You might develop a cough or breathing problems. This could be due to infection, such as pneumonia or inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis). 

Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you suddenly become breathless or develop a cough.

You might have a build up of fluid around your lungs (pleural effusion), but this is less common. This might cause wheezing or breathlessness.

Pain

You may have pain as a result of this treatment. This might include muscle pain. Less often, people may have joint, back or stomach pain. Let your healthcare team know so they can advise you on how to reduce it.

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:

  • difficulty walking or keeping balance

  • memory problems or confusion

  • shaking of arms or legs (tremor)

  • muscle weakness

  • liver or kidney changes - you will have regular blood tests to check this

  • low blood pressure

  • seizures (fits)

  • low levels of minerals in the blood

  • high levels of uric acid in the blood (tumour lysis syndrome)

  • blurred vision

  • loss of appetite and weight loss

  • sore mouth and ulcers

  • taste changes

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 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.

Having blood after this treatment

After having this drug you should only have blood or platelets that are first treated with radiation (irradiated). The radiation lowers the risk of a reaction between your blood cells and the cells in the transfusion. No harm comes from the irradiated blood.

In your medical records there is a note saying you should only have irradiated blood. You have a card to carry with this information. This is in case you need treatment at another hospital.

Pregnancy and contraception

This drug 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. Men should not get someone pregnant for at least 3 months after finishing treatment.

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.

Loss of fertility

It is not known whether this treatment affects fertility Open a glossary item in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Breastfeeding

It is not known whether this drug comes through into the breast milk. Doctors usually advise that you don’t breastfeed during this treatment.

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.

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. 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