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What is Teniposide?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Teniposide is a chemotherapy drug that is most commonly given to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia in children and young adults. The medication works by preventing cancerous white blood cells from replicating, thereby slowing the growth of tumors and the spread of cancer throughout blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic tissue. It is usually administered in a hospital or specialty clinic by a trained doctor through a slow-release injection. Leukemia is notoriously difficult to treat effectively, but using teniposide with other chemotherapy drugs does help impede the progression of cancer to some degree in most patients.

When teniposide is injected into a vein in the arm, it travels throughout the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Cancerous blood and bone marrow cells are targeted and infiltrated. Inside a cell, chemical agents in teniposide inhibit the enzymes that help to hold DNA double helix strands together. As a result, DNA strands break apart, leaving the cell unable to enter mitosis and replicate itself. New cancerous cells cannot be produced and existing ones eventually expire.

A team of cancer specialists are consulted before deciding to administer teniposide. Doctors carefully review a patient's medical history and allergies to limit the risks of adverse effects. The amount and frequency of dosages are calculated by taking into consideration the patient's age, weight, height, and overall health. Since every dose is given in a clinical setting, the risk of overdose or other complications is very low.

Teniposide usually causes a number of side effects, though most of them are mild. Patients may experience dizziness, nausea, and fever shortly after taking a dose. Long-term use of the medication can result in temporary hair loss, a common feature of many chemotherapy drugs. Allergic reactions that cause airway constriction and skin hives are rare but possible. Since teniposide affects both cancerous and healthy white blood cells, long-term use weakens the immune system. It is important for patients to take preventive measures against catching colds or exposing wounds to bacteria, since infections can occur more easily and become serious health concerns.

Most patients take teniposide and other medications once or twice a week for up to two months at a time. During treatment, conditions are constantly monitored to see if the drugs are working and to make sure cancer is not developing in other parts of the body. Several rounds of treatment may be needed at regular intervals throughout a patient's childhood to combat the devastating cancer.

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