What is Capecitabine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Capecitabine is a chemotherapy drug used in the management of metastatic colorectal and breast cancers. This drug may be prescribed for other purposes as well. It is typically part of combination therapy, and patients may also receive surgery and radiation as part of their treatment plan. The drug is provided in tablet format and can be taken at home without supervision, although patients with severe complications may be hospitalized during chemotherapy for intensive care and monitoring.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

This drug is in a class of chemotherapy medications known as antimetabolites. It works by mimicking a natural compound in the body. The tumor takes up the drug, thinking it can use it for metabolic processes, and the drug locks up a receptor on the surface of the growth. This prevents the tumor from accessing compounds it needs to grow larger, slowing the rate of cancer development. When combined with treatments to actively attack and shrink the cancer, like radiation, capecitabine can help manage the spread of metastases.

Patients on this medication usually experience some gastrointestinal upset and may feel weak and dehydrated. It commonly lowers blood cell counts, causing anemia, and it has been linked with cardiovascular complications in some patients. Capecitabine can also be hard on the kidneys and liver, especially in combination with drugs known to cause bad interactions. It is important for patients to go over all the medications they are taking, including over the counter and herbal drugs, to check for any potential contraindications.

Capecitabine is also linked with hand-foot syndrome, a complication associated with some chemotherapy agents. In patients with this condition, the hands and feet swell significantly during chemotherapy and the skin may redden, blister, and peel. Some patients temporarily lose their fingerprints and numbness and tingling can be experienced. Hand creams sometimes provide relief for patients with this complication and there may be other options to explore as well.

Patients usually take capecitabine in three-week cycles, with a week of rest from the drug built in to each cycle. They will be periodically evaluated by their doctors to see how well the cancer is responding and to check for complications associated with the drug therapy. Patients should contact their doctors if they experience severe side effects, particularly high fever, persistent vomiting, and altered level of consciousness. This drug also depresses the immune system, making it important to avoid potential infections, and it may not be safe to receive vaccinations while on capecitabine.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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