Pronunciation: sye TAR a been

What is the most important information I should know about cytarabine?

Cytarabine can lower blood cells that help your body fight infections and help your blood to clot. You may get an infection or bleed more easily. Call your doctor if you have unusual bruising or bleeding, or signs of infection (fever, chills, body aches).

Cytarabine can cause serious side effects on your brain or central nervous system that may not be reversible. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of using this medication.

What is cytarabine?

Cytarabine is a cancer medicine that interferes with the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body.

Cytarabine is used to treat certain types of leukemia (blood cancers). Cytarabine is also used to treat leukemia associated with meningitis.

Cytarabine will not treat an active meningitis infection that has already developed in the body.

Cytarabine may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before receiving cytarabine?

Cytarabine can cause serious side effects on your brain or central nervous system that may not be reversible. Cytarabine is usually given together with a steroid medication to help lessen these side effects. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of using this medication.

You should not be treated with cytarabine if you are allergic to it.

To make sure cytarabine is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:

  • liver or kidney disease;
  • epilepsy or other seizure disorder; or
  • a history of head injury or brain tumor.

Do not receive cytarabine if you are pregnant. It could harm the unborn baby. Use effective birth control, and tell your doctor if you become pregnant during treatment.

It is not known whether cytarabine passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. You should not breast-feed while you are receiving cytarabine.

How is cytarabine given?

Cytarabine is given as an injection through a needle placed into a vein, under the skin, or into the space around the spinal cord. A healthcare provider will give you this injection.

Cytarabine is usually given for only a few days at a time. Follow your doctor's dosing instructions very carefully.

After receiving an injection, you will be watched closely to make sure you do not have serious side effects.

Cytarabine can lower blood cells that help your body fight infections and help your blood to clot. This can make it easier for you to bleed from an injury or get sick from being around others who are ill. Your blood may need to be tested often.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Call your doctor for instructions if you miss an appointment for your cytarabine injection.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while receiving cytarabine?

Avoid being near people who are sick or have infections. Tell your doctor at once if you develop signs of infection.

This medicine can pass into body fluids (urine, feces, vomit). For at least 48 hours after you receive a dose, avoid allowing your body fluids to come into contact with your hands or other surfaces. Caregivers should wear rubber gloves while cleaning up a patient's body fluids, handling contaminated trash or laundry or changing diapers. Wash hands before and after removing gloves. Wash soiled clothing and linens separately from other laundry.

Do not receive a "live" vaccine while using cytarabine. The vaccine may not work as well during this time, and may not fully protect you from disease. Live vaccines include measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), rotavirus, typhoid, yellow fever, varicella (chickenpox), zoster (shingles), and nasal flu (influenza) vaccine.

What are the possible side effects of cytarabine?

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Tell your caregivers at once if you have:

  • fever, body aches, chest pain;
  • stomach pain, bloody or tarry stools, coughing up blood or vomit that looks like coffee grounds;
  • dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes);
  • severe shortness of breath, wheezing, cough with foamy mucus, chest pain;
  • pale skin, easy bruising, unusual bleeding, feeling light-headed;
  • tremors, muscle weakness, trouble standing or walking;
  • confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior;
  • problems with your vision or speech;
  • a light-headed feeling, like you might pass out; or
  • loss of movement in any part of your body.

Your cancer treatments may be delayed or permanently discontinued if you have certain side effects.

Common side effects may include:

  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite;
  • fever;
  • mouth sores;
  • rectal pain or swelling;
  • rash; or
  • bruising where the IV needle was placed.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What other drugs will affect cytarabine?

Tell your doctor about all your current medicines and any you start or stop using, especially:

  • digoxin, digitalis.

This list is not complete. Other drugs may interact with cytarabine, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible interactions are listed in this medication guide.

Where can I get more information?

Your pharmacist can provide more information about cytarabine.


Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

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