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Cytarabine (DBL)

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Generic Name: Cytarabine
Product Name: Cytarabine (DBL)


Cytarabine is a chemotherapy drug used in the treatment and induction of remission of patients with acute myelocytic leukaemia (AML), acute lymphocytic leukaemia, chronic myelocytic leukaemia and erythroleukaemia (all cancers that affect the blood cells, bone marrow cells and/or cells in the lymphatic system and spleen). Cytarabine, is also used to treat meningeal tumours, which arise from the outer lining of the brain and spinal cord.


Cytarabine is an anti-cancer drug that also suppresses your bone marrow and your immune system. It works by preventing certain cells from reproducing and destroying certain existing cells. Many of these cells will be cancer cells, so the growth of the cancer will be slowed by Cytarabine and many existing cancer cells will be destroyed. Unfortunately many healthy cells are also destroyed by anti-cancer drugs, which is why there are a number of side-effects.

Dose advice

Cytarabine can’t be absorbed by the stomach or gut and requires parenteral administration, meaning it needs to be injected either under the skin, into a vein or into the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The dosage of Cytarabine will be decided upon by the doctor based on individual patient factors, such as: how well the patient is; how the patient’s blood test results look; how well the patient tolerates the drug; and the particular combination of medications that has been chosen to treat that patient. A balance needs to be obtained between optimizing the clinical results and minimising the side-effects.



Common side effects

  • Nausea and Vomiting – Easily controlled with standard antiemetics
  • Haematological – Leukocytes are inhibited more than platelets
  • Mucositis- Depending on dosage schedule, the lining of the digestive tract can be damaged causing diarrhoea and mouth sores
  • Ara-C syndrome – Fever, muscle soreness, joint and bone pain, chest pain, rash and eye effects
  • Peripheral neuropathies – Loss of sensation in the fingers and toes
  • Bone marrow suppression
  • Toxic effects on blood cells
  • Headaches and fever
  • Myalgia (aching muscles)
  • Malaise
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mouth and anal skin ulceration or inflammation
  • Rash and other skin changes (freckling, ulceration)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Hair loss
  • Pain in the abdomen (stomach area)
  • Bone pain
  • Inflammation of the oesophagus (tube connecting the mouth to the stomach)
  • Inflammation around the injection site
  • Infections

Uncommon side effects

  • Bleeding into the oesophagus, stomach or gut
  • Bloody stools and/or vomit
  • Liver disease characterised by jaundice (yellow skin, dark urine, pale stools)
  • Chest pain
  • Kidney failure
  • Urinary retention (inability to empty the bladder without medical assistance)
  • Lung changes resulting in shortness of breath, excess fluid in the lungs and enlargement of the heart (rare)
  • Permanent nerve damage (rare)
  • Paraplegia (rare)
  • Blindness (rare)


For further information talk to your doctor.

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Posted On: 22 July, 2003
Modified On: 31 October, 2015


Created by: myVMC