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What is Fludarabine?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fludarabine is a chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of cancer. It is most commonly utilized for patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia, although it can be used for other cancers involving the blood. This drug is available in the form of a solution for injection or tablets delivered orally. It is usually provided as part of a combination therapy regimen with other chemotherapy drugs.

This medication is in a class of chemotherapy drugs that work by attacking metabolic processes within the cancer cells. The drug inhibits the growth of cancerous cells and eventually forces cancer cells to die. It can be very effective in patients who have not responded to primary treatment.

Chemotherapy drugs are very strong, and fludarabine can come with serious side effects. As it attacks cancerous blood cells, it can also damage healthy cells. The drug causes anemia, with the lowest blood cell counts occurring approximately two weeks after the medication ha6s been administered. Patients on this drug have severely weakened immune systems and are highly vulnerable to infections, particularly pneumonia. Prophylactic drugs may be offered to prevent infection if a patient's oncologist is concerned.

One serious potential side effect of fludarabine is tumor lysis syndrome. This complication can also be seen with some other chemotherapy drugs. It occurs when cancer cells rapidly break up. This can cause kidney failure. If a patient has difficulty urinating or notices decreased urine output after a fludarabine treatment, the doctor should be notified.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, bleeding, bruising, dizziness, and confusion. In rare cases, fludarabine can be neurotoxic, typically when it is delivered in very high doses. Patients should review the side effects with their physicians before starting treatment. It is advisable to ask about which side effects require immediate medical attention, and which can wait for up to 24 hours. This will allow patients to make decisions about when to go to the emergency room for treatment of side effects and when to wait for regular office hours and call the doctor.

While on fludarabine, people will need to take precautions to avoid exposure to infectious organisms. Even mild infections can be dangerous because the patient's immune system lacks the ability to successfully eliminate fungi, bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. If a patient develops a high fever, altered level of consciousness, significant swelling, severe pain, or redness, a doctor should be called immediately because these can be signs of life-threatening infection.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By 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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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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