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What is Busulfan?

By Emma G.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Busulfan is a common cancer drug. It is generally used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. Busulfan can also be combined with other drugs in order to prepare a patient for bone marrow transplant.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia is a cancer that affects the white blood. It causes increased growth of these cells in the bone marrow and increased accumulation in the blood. Doctors usually diagnose this condition after a blood test indicates an elevated white blood cell count in the patient.

Cancer cells are less stable than normal cells because they divide more often and with fewer safeguards against error. This allows them to be more easily damaged. Busulfan works by attaching an alkaline missing one hydrogen, known as an alkyl, to the DNA in cells. The alkyl damages the cell, making it unable to divide.

The drawback to this treatment is that it cannot be targeted to affect only cancer cells. Normal cells are damaged as well. Cells that sustain the most damage are the cells that divide most often, such as the gastrointestinal cells, bone marrow cells, and ovaries.

This damage to normal cells causes some relatively serious side effects. Gastrointestinal issues, poor appetite, and mouth sours can result from damage to gastrointestinal cells. Tiredness and increased susceptibility to infection can result from damage to bone marrow cells. Busulfan may even cause a temporary decrease in fertility.

Usually the damage to normal cells is temporary. The normal cells should regenerate and be healthy once the cycle of cancer treatment is ended. There are some actions patients can take to help reduce uncomfortable or dangerous side effects from the drug.

Eating several small meals a day and taking anti-nausea medication can help reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues. Drinking several quarts of fluid every day can reduce the risk of dehydration if vomiting and diarrhea occur. As Busulfan lowers white blood cell counts, patients may be more susceptible to infection. Frequent hand washing and avoiding crowds can help reduce the risk.

Damage to normal cells is usually a problem, but it can help some patients. As Busulfan damages cells like bone marrow cells that divide often, it can be used to prepare patients for bone marrow transplant by destroying existing bone marrow.

Busulfan can be administered intravenously or taken in pill form. Dosing size will depend on the condition being treated and the height and weight of the patient. This is a powerful drug that should only be taken under the supervision of a physician.

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