What is Cytarabine?

Cytarabine conventional (Ara-C) is an antimetabolite chemotherapy medication. It is used to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), remission induction; acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and meningeal leukemia. It has several non-FDA approved, off-label indications as well. Cytarabine prevents DNA from forming by mimicking one of the DNA building blocks, pyrimidine. Cytarabine also interferes with an enzyme in the cell known as DNA polymerase, which prevents DNA repair. These actions ultimately contribute to cell death.

How it is administered?

Cytarabine has several routes of administration including subcutaneously, intravenously and directly into the brain- intrathecally. When given subcutaneously and intrathecally, the administration time is relatively short, typically under 10 minutes. However, intravenous infusion times vary depending on dose and range from 1 to 3 or more hours. High doses of cytarabine are associated with greater incidences of nausea. Pre-medications are typically given prior to infusion to help prevent the occurrence of nausea.

What to expect:

Cytarabine can cause anemia and reduce the body’s ability to fight infections. Additional side effects include nausea, vomiting, anal ulceration, fever, rash, diarrhea, increases in liver enzymes, vein irritation at administration site, dizziness, headache, itching and hair loss. Laboratory tests are routinely done throughout the duration of therapy to monitor and help control some of these side effects.