What is Idarubicin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2018
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Idarubicin is a drug used in the treatment of leukemia. It is an antineoplastic agent that works by interfering with enzymes involved in the growth of new cancer cells, causing the cancer to shrink. Like other chemotherapy drugs used in cancer care, idarubicin is very strong and it must be used precisely as directed to limit risks for patients. It is usually given as part of a combination drug regimen with other chemotherapy drugs and the dosage can vary depending on the patient, the cancer, and the treatment protocol.

This drug is known by brand names like Idamycin®. It is typically administered in a clinical setting. The patient is connected to an intravenous drip and the drug is slowly introduced to the intravenous line. It is important to be aware that idarubicin is a vesicant, meaning it can cause blistering and irritation if it escapes from the vein. If a patient on an intravenous drip feels pain or burning or notices that the skin around the needle looks irritated, a nurse should be called immediately.


Common side effects of idarubicin can include darker urine for several days after an infusion, dizziness, confusion, nausea, hair loss, and vomiting. This drug also weakens the immune system, making people vulnerable to infection. Many patients develop anemia because the drug can affect the bone marrow, and patients can also experience diarrhea and altered sense of taste. Side effects vary from patient to patient, but patients may find it helpful to talk to people already on the drug to get information about what to expect.

This antileukemic drug has been linked with heart, kidney, and liver damage. Patients should monitor their health carefully while on this medication and a doctor may recommend screening tests to check for signs of complications. If a patient does develop severe side effects or organ damage, it may be necessary to implement a new treatment protocol to address the situation or to provide the patient with medications designed to mitigate the side effects so that the patient will be more comfortable.

Several sessions of idarubicin treatment are needed to be effective against cancer. The patient will be periodically evaluated to see how well the cancer is responding to therapy and to make any necessary adjustments to treatment in response to the outcomes of tests and evaluations. If the patient enters remission, medical appointments will be needed for life to check for the signs of recurrence.



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