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What is Azacitidine?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Azacitidine is a medication prescribed to individuals who have been diagnosed with some types of cancer. Particularly effective against cancers of the bone marrow, the drug acts to slow the spread of the disease. It is generally administered as an injection in a clinical setting.

A group of cancers known as myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are those that are treated by azacitidine. These are cancers of the blood, which generally begin in an individual's bone marrow. The bone marrow is the portion of the body that is responsible for making new blood cells, and when this system is compromised, there are either too few blood cells or abnormal cells present in the body. There are five types of MDS, and azacitidine can be used in the treatment of all five.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

The medication acts in two ways. It helps create balance within the bone marrow and aids in the production of normal blood cells. Secondly, it attacks and destroys abnormal blood cells before they can be released into the blood stream. These types of medications are known as demethylation agents.

In most cases, azacitidine is injected daily for one week. After one month, the week-long cycle can be started again. Treatment can be continued as long as it is needed and is generally administered by a medical professional in a hospital or clinical setting.

Many individuals experience mild side effects from the administration of the drug, including redness, swelling, bruising or aching where the needle is injected. Side effects such as nausea and vomiting are common, and can be managed with the administration of other medications before the treatment. Headaches, joint pain and a loss of appetite are also common.

More serious side effects may result in treatment being discontinued or dosing being changed. These include difficulty breathing; gastrointestinal distress that cannot be managed with other medications or that does not go away; flu-like symptoms, such as fever and body aches; and sudden, extreme weight gain. Azacitidine may also cause abnormalities in the blood, such as gums that bleed, blood blisters under the skin, nosebleeds, and easy bruising.

Azacitidine may interfere with some pre-existing conditions that can also make side effects worse. Patients with liver disease, renal failure or kidney failure are typically not given the drug because of possible interactions with drugs used to treat these conditions. Women who are pregnant are generally not administered the drug either because of danger to the unborn baby.

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