Medications for Leukemia

Here are the basics about each of the medicines below. Medicines are used to treat leukemia and the side effects from treatment. Only the most common reactions are listed. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special steps. Use each of these drugs as advised by your doctor or the booklet they came with. If you have any questions, call your doctor

Medications to Increase Blood Counts

Anemia is a drop in red blood cells that can leave you feeling tired or lightheaded, and looking pale. A drop in white blood cells leaves you open to infection. A boost in these blood cells will help ease symptoms.

Filgrastim and Pegfilgrastim

These medicines are used to make white blood cells. This will help lower the risk of infection. It may also help with tolerating larger doses of chemotherapy.

Some problems are:

  • Hair loss
  • Rash
  • Bone pain
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired

Epoetin

Epoetin helps the body make new red blood cells. This will ease anemia symptoms. This drug has two-week delay after the first shot. If blood cells need to be restored quickly, a blood transfusions may be done.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Cough

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs to seek out and kill cancer. They can be used alone or with chemotherapy. Because they target certain cancer cells, they side effects are milder than with chemotherapy.

Imatinib

This is used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). It lowers the number of cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow.

Some problems are:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Headache

Nilotinib

This is used to treat those with CML and a certain type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that can be hard to treat.

Some problems are:

  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Drop in white blood cell or platelet counts

Dasatinib

This is used to treat those with CML and a certain type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that can be hard to treat.

Some problems are:

  • Fluid buildup in the body
  • Drop in white blood cell or platelet counts
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches

Special Considerations

If you are taking medicine:

  • Take medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Do not share your prescription medicine.
  • Medicine can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medicine. This includes over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan for refills as needed.

References:

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated August 14, 2018. March 14, 2019.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 21, 2017. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Dasatinib. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/dasatinib. Updated March 9, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Nilotinib. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/nilotinib. Updated March 22, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Targeted cancer therapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/targeted-therapy.html. Accessed March 14, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/14/2019

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