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Epirubicin

Epirubicin

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
epirubicin Ellence

How It Works

Epirubicin is an antitumor antibiotic that slows or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is often used in combination with other cancer-fighting medicines (chemotherapy). Epirubicin works by targeting rapidly-dividing cells, which make up most tumors. The medicine binds to the cancer cells, stopping them from growing and spreading.

Epirubicin is an intravenous (IV) medicine. The amount of epirubicin you will be given is based on the type and stage of cancer, body size, and whether other medicines are also being taken.

Why It Is Used

Epirubicin is used to slow or stop the growth and spread of cancer cells. It is mainly used to treat some kinds of breast cancer, lung cancer, cancers of the lymph system, stomach cancer, and ovarian cancer. In certain cases, your doctor may also prescribe epirubicin to treat other kinds of cancer, including cancer of the muscles, tendons, joints, fat, or the esophagus.

How Well It Works

Epirubicin is an effective antitumor medicine. In some cancers, epirubicin may work better when it is combined with other chemotherapy medicines. But the ability of epirubicin to stop the growth and spread of cancer cells depends on the type and extent of cancer in the body.

Side Effects

Like some other chemotherapy medicines, epirubicin can affect your ability to have children. You may not be able to father a child or become pregnant if you take epirubicin, so discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment. Women treated with epirubicin may stop menstruating or start menopause early.

Epirubicin also can cause birth defects. Don't take this medicine if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are being treated. Discuss birth control with your doctor if you are able to become pregnant and are planning treatment with epirubicin.

Women who are taking epirubicin should not breast-feed.

Side effects are common with epirubicin. Because epirubicin works on most rapidly dividing cells, some healthy parts of your body will be affected by this medicine. This can cause side effects ranging from mild to serious. Side effects may include:

  • Red or orange urine for a few days after treatment. This is normal as your body gets rid of the epirubicin, which is a red-orange liquid.
  • Hair loss. Hair usually starts to grow back 2 or 3 months after treatment when epirubicin is completed, though it may be a different color or texture.
  • Anemia. Epirubicin may lower white blood cell counts, red blood cell counts, and platelet counts, which can cause fatigue and an increased risk of infection.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth sores.
  • Damage to the heart muscle, in rare cases.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Vomiting.
  • Dehydration.
  • Fever.
  • Evidence of infection.
  • Symptoms of heart problems, such as shortness of breath, swelling in the ankles, and fluid retention.
  • Pain where you were injected with epirubicin.

Tell your doctor immediately if you feel a stinging or burning sensation while getting an injection of epirubicin. If this medicine leaks into the tissue surrounding the vein where it is injected, the tissue can be damaged.

In rare cases, people who have used epirubicin may develop leukemia up to 5 years after treatment. The chances of having heart muscle damage and leukemia appear to be related to the dose of epirubicin used and how long the treatment lasts.

What To Think About

Epirubicin should only be given by a doctor experienced in the use of chemotherapy medicines (medical oncologist).

Long-term use of epirubicin can damage your heart muscle and may cause congestive heart failure. Though there are medicines to treat heart muscle damage from epirubicin, in some cases the damage is irreversible. This medicine also may increase your chances of having leukemia in the future.

Epirubicin also can cause birth defects. Don't take this medicine if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are being treated. Discuss birth control with your doctor if you are able to become pregnant and are planning treatment with epirubicin.

Women who are taking epirubicin should not breast-feed.

You may not be able to take epirubicin if you've taken it or some other chemotherapy medicines in the past. Tell your doctor if you've ever been treated with doxorubicin, daunorubicin, mitoxantrone or mitomycin C, or anthracene derivatives.

Alcohol, alcohol-containing mouthwashes, and any form of tobacco should be avoided. All of these can aggravate the mouth sores that sometimes affect people who take epirubicin.

Talk with your doctor about all of the other medicines—including prescription, nonprescription, and any herbal or vitamin supplements—that you are taking. Some medicines can be dangerous when mixed with epirubicin. And some medicines may cause unpleasant side effects.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Revised August 14, 2013
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