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What is Irinotecan?

By Eric Stolze
Updated May 17, 2024
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Irinotecan is a prescription drug that is sold under the Camptosar® brand name. This drug is often used to treat cancers of the rectum and colon because it tends to interfere with cancer cell growth. Many patients experience a slowing in the growth of cancer cells with this medication and a reduction in the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. Some patients may develop side effects from the use of this cancer treatment, and many doctors can provide medical advice regarding the drug’s side effects.

Most patients receive irinotecan through an intravenous infusion, during which a needle is typically inserted into a vein and the medication is infused into the patient’s bloodstream. In most situations, health care professionals administer this drug in a hospital or a medical clinic. Other cancer medications may be used concurrently with this drug in some cases. A physician may prescribe another drug to prevent possible diarrhea, vomiting or nausea side effects from irinotecan.

Some patients may develop an allergic reaction to irinotecan that may include skin hives or problems with breathing. Individuals who get this drug on their skin may usually avoid skin side effects if they use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash an affected area. Allergies to this drug can also result in swelling of various parts of the body such as the face, tongue and lips as well as the throat.

Serious side effects from irinotecan often require prompt medical treatment and may include unusual bleeding or bruising, black or bloody stools and loose stools. Headaches, confusion and vision problems have developed in some individuals who were treated with this drug. Some patients have experienced swelling and pain in their legs as well as chest pain while they used this medication. In some cases, patients have noticed dehydration, increased sweating and stomach cramps while they underwent treatment with this drug.

A doctor may recommend certain precautions to patients who take irinotecan. In some cases, patients can become infected with a virus from a live vaccine and they may need to avoid exposure to any live vaccines while they are using irinotecan. Patients who take this drug may be at a greater risk of developing colds, influenza and other infections from many common viruses that they may be exposed to. This medication can also cause harm to some unborn babies and is usually not used to treat pregnant women. In some instances, patients who have intestinal obstructions, liver disease or diabetes may receive dosage adjustments or special monitoring from their doctors while they use this drug.

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