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Medications for Leukemia

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Prescription Medications

Chemotherapy
A variety of chemotherapy drugs may be used to treat your leukemia. They are designed to prevent replication of the abnormal cells and to reduce their numbers. Chemotherapy drugs can also produce side effects such as anemia, diarrhea, and low white cell counts that may leave you susceptible to infection. The number of chemotherapy drugs, most often given intravenously, is too great to list individually. You should discuss with your doctor what drugs you are receiving and what the side effects are likely to be.
Filgrastim (Neupogen) and Pegfilgrastim (Neulasta)
Your doctor may prescribe this drug to help stimulate the production of normal white blood cells. This will help reduce your risk of infection and may help you tolerate larger doses of chemotherapy as a result
Epoetin Alpha (Procrit and Epogen)
This drug is a duplicate of a hormone that naturally stimulates the production of red cells by the bone marrow. Your physician may prescribe it to improve your red cell counts, reducing anemia and the symptoms of fatigue that it produces.
Imatinib Mesylate (Gleevec)
Imatinib mesylate is a new drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia. It reduces the number of cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow. It is taken by mouth.
Possible side effects include:
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Headache
Nilotinib (Tasigna)
Nilotinib is used to treat CML and Philadelphia chromosome positive ALL in patients who can’t take other drugs or who are resistant to them. It blocks signals from the cells which blocks cancer from growing. It is taken by mouth twice a day.
Possible side effects include:
  • Skin rash
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Drop in white blood cell or platelet count
Dasatinib (Sprycel)
Dasatinib is used to treat Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) and Philadelphia chromosome positive patients, ALL in patients who can’t take other drugs or who are resistant to them. It interferes with pathways that are used to grow cancer cells. It is taken by mouth twice a day.
Possible side effects include:
  • Fluid retention
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle aches

Special Considerations

Infertility and premature menopause may occur with drugs ordered to treat leukemia. If fertility is a concern, talk to your doctor about storing sperm or eggs before starting therapy.
Whenever you are taking a prescription medication, take the following precautions:
  • Take them as directed—not more, not less, not at a different time.
  • Do not stop taking them without consulting your doctor.
  • Don’t share them with anyone else.
  • Know what effects and side effects to expect, and report them to your doctor.
  • If you are taking more than one drug, even if it is over-the-counter, be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist about drug interactions.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

References

American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org.

Conn's Current Therapy 2001. 53rd ed. W.B. Saunders Company; 2001.

Dasatinib and Nilotinib both effective for CML when Imatinib won't work. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/results/dastinib-nilotinib-CML1007. Accessed December 22, 2009.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website. Available at: http://www.lls.org.

National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/.

Nilotinib. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/druginfo/nilotinib/print. Accessed December 22, 2009.

Sprycel package insert. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda%5Fdocs/label/2009/021986s004lbl.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2009.

Tasigna package insert. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda%5Fdocs/label/2007/022068lbl.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2009.

United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov.

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