What is Dactinomycin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Dactinomycin is a drug derived from soil bacteria used in the treatment of some kinds of cancers, including sarcomas and testicular cancer. The drug is classified as an antibiotic and works by stopping cancer cells from growing. Although it could technically be used in antibiotic therapy for infections, it is so aggressive that this use is not advised, because the collateral damage to surrounding tissue would be severe. This drug is usually administered in a chemotherapy infusion clinic where patients can be monitored for signs of side effects.

Also known as actinomycin-D, this drug is available in the form of an injectable solution to be delivered intravenously. It can be combined with other forms of cancer therapy, depending on the treatment protocol developed by a patient's oncologist. Common dactinomycin side effects include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and frequent bleeding. Patients on this medication also tend to develop immune suppression, exposing them to a higher risk of infection, and their healing time from cuts and scrapes is usually slower than normal.

One risk with this medication is damage to skin and muscle tissue around the injection site if the medication leaks out of the vein. When people receive infusions, they should report numbness, tingling, and heat around the injection site immediately, as these can be signs of tissue damage caused by the dactinomycin. Patients will also be monitored for immediate adverse effects like extreme nausea or signs of allergies.


Another potential side effect of this medication is a phenomenon called radiation recall. If patients have received prior radiation treatment, the skin around the area may become red, sore, and irritated after dactinomycin treatment. This doesn't happen in all patients who have received radiation, and it can be alarming if patients aren't aware of the potential for this side effect ahead of time.

Like other chemotherapy drugs, dactinomycin can take several days to work, and patients respond variably to the drug. Some patients may experience nausea and vomiting for several days and then improve, with their blood cell counts reaching the nadir, the lowest point, in 14 to 21 days after an injection. The drug is designed to be taken in a series of cycles, with a rest period between cycles to allow the body to recover. It usually takes 28 days to complete one cycle, and a patient will be monitored throughout to see if the dosage or schedule needs to be adjusted.



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