What is Epirubicin?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Epirubicin is a medication typically combined with other drugs as part of chemotherapy. Also known by brand names like Ellence® and manufactured primarily by Pfizer Incorporated®, this medicine may be recommended as a breast cancer treatment. It is given via intravenous (IV) infusion with other drugs to stop the growth of malignant cells and to hopefully arrest cancer metastasis and help cure the disease. The drug is not always successful, and much depends on the stage of cancer when treatment begins and its degree of aggressiveness.

Chemotherapy drugs often cause hair loss as a side effect.
Chemotherapy drugs often cause hair loss as a side effect.

Epirubicin belongs to a group of drugs called anthracyclines, which are made from certain bacteria. Many of these medicines are used in cancer treatment, but Ellence® tends to be preferable, especially in breast cancer treatment, due to a lower side effect profile, though it still has plenty of uncomfortable side effects like most chemo drugs.

Epirubicin is administered intravenously.
Epirubicin is administered intravenously.

In general, anthracyclines like epirubicin slow the growth of cancer cells through acting on, inhibiting and damaging DNA and RNA. This proves beneficial in killing cancer cells. It must be administered with extreme care so it doesn’t kill the patient receiving treatment.

The most potentially severe effects of epirubicin are profound damage to the heart or sometimes other organs, and pregnant women should never take this medicine as it can kill or cause severe damage to the fetus. A male using epirubicin who impregnates a woman may also pass on severe genetic problems to the child. Additionally, many other side effects of the drug are noted that are expected with chemotherapy treatment.

Some of the main side effects of epirubicin include extreme nausea and vomiting, profound hair loss (which usually grows back after treatment), urine that is red in color right after receiving the medicine, skin itching, and fatigue. Patients should be on the alert for more serious side effects that need immediate medical attention. These include allergy or anaphylactic response to the drug, extreme fatigue, developing any form of infection, mouth sores, low urinary output, fainting, confusion, a pronounced increase in weight or sudden severe fluid retention, slow or fast heart rate, vomiting that won’t stop accompanied by dehydration, and shortness of breath.

The negative side effects of epirubicin may be difficult to understand completely for patients because they are often receiving more than one medicine when they receive chemotherapy. To clarify matters, patients should ask doctors for a list of all side effects they may experience and to especially make note of those side effects that are considered serious and dangerous. This can help patients to decide when to contact their physicians.

Any form of chemotherapy is challenging on the body. It’s a delicate balance of attempting to kill cancer cells while helping a person survive the experience. Epirubicin may prove an effective drug, but it is deeply challenging to use at the same time. Its use is justified by its desired result, which is a patient who has fought cancer and won.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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