What is Irinotecan?

Irinotecan is a chemotherapy medication. Irinotecan is a plant alkaloid and is made from plants. It is used to treat bowel cancer and small cell lung cancer. It is used in conjunction with other medications. The trade name for this medication is Camptosar.

Other names for this medication are Camptothecin-11 and CPT-11. This medication is given intravenously. There are no oral forms of this medication. This medication is known as an irritant and can cause inflammation to the vein in which it is given. [1, 2]

Irinotecan Picture 1

How does Irinotecan Work?

There is an enzyme called topoisomerase and this medication blocks it. The body uses this enzyme to divide cells. When this enzyme is blocked then the cancer cells cannot divide and grow. [1, 2]

Irinotecan Medicine

Side Effects

  • Sweating
  • Saliva production is increased
  • Eyes can be watery
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Early diarrhea within 24 hours of this medication and late diarrhea that happens after 24 hours of this medication (special medication for diarrhea can be used as per doctor instructions)
  • Increased risk for infection, may have headaches, fever, chills, aching muscles, coughing, sore throat, painful urination (contact the doctor about infections because they can be life threatening)
  • Fatigue and weakness (due to drop in red blood cells)
  • Difficulty breathing (due to drop in red blood cells)
  • Easy bruising, nose bleeds and bleeding gums (due to drop in platelets)
  • Feeling sick
  • Appetite loss
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Bone marrow suppression [1, 2]

Less Common Side Effects

  • Constipation
  • Problems sleeping
  • Dehydration
  • Skin rash
  • Gas
  • Flushing of face
  • Mouth sores
  • Heartburn
  • Feet and ankle swelling
  • Blood clots
  • Colon inflammation
  • Muscle twitches
  • Liver changes
  • Menstrual cycles may stop
  • Loss of fertility
  • Dizziness
  • Eye sight changes
  • Sensations to skin like pins and needles
  • Speech problems that may be temporary
  • High blood pressure
  • Allergic reactions [1, 2, 3]

Irinotecan Relative PicturesContraindications

Let your doctor know about the medications you are taking. Some might interfere with Irinotecan. Avoidance of laxatives and stool stimulants during this kind of chemotherapy is recommended to prevent diarrhea and dehydration.

Irinotecan is harmful to a developing fetus. This medication is a pregnancy category D. Avoiding pregnancy while taking this medication is recommended. A reliable contraception is needed up until three months after finishing this medication for both men and women. Breast feeding while on this medication is not recommended because the medication will pass through the milk to the baby.

Avoidance of immunizations with live vaccines is recommended while taking chemotherapy. [1]

Warning Signs

Notify your doctor immediately if you have the following symptoms:

  • A fever of 100.4 F or 38 C of higher
  • Fainting, dizziness, being light headed, dark color urine (dehydration)

Notify your doctor within 24 hours if you have the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea, 4-6 episodes in 24 hours despite anti-diarrhea medicine and dietary changes
  • Nausea that interferes with eating and is not helped by medication
  • Vomiting more than 4-5 times in 24 hours
  • Extreme fatigue that interferes with self care
  • Mouth sores [2]

Tips While Taking

Apply ice to inflamed areas at the IV site. Drink plenty of water unless directed otherwise. Follow anti-diarrhea instructions as per your health care team. Eat foods that will help reduce diarrhea. Take anti-nausea medications as instructed by your health care team. Eat small frequent meals. Eat nutritious meals.

Avoid crowds of people and people that are sick to prevent infections. Wash your hands frequently. Brush your teeth frequently with a soft tooth brush. Avoid the sun. Minimal or avoidance of alcohol is recommended. Get plenty of rest throughout the day.

The doctor will test your blood throughout the treatment to see how your blood levels and organs are doing. The doctor will follow up with any side effects you are experiencing as well. [2]

What to read next?

Reference List:

  1. Cancer Research UK,
  2. Chemocare,
  3. Wikipedia,
  4. All Med Tech,
  5. Star Tribune,

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