Classification: Alkylating Agent
Cyclophosphamide exerts its anti-cancer affect by a process called alkylation. Alkylation damages the DNA of cells, which prevents them from dividing, and causes them to die. Since cancer cells, in general, divide faster and with less error correcting than healthy cells, cancer cells are more sensitive to this damage.
How to Take Cyclophosphamide
Cyclophosphamide can be given by intravenous (IV, into a vein) infusion or taken orally (by mouth) in a pill form. This information is about the IV formulation. The dosage and schedule are determined by the person's size, type of cancer, and mode of administration. Intravenous cyclophosphamide is given by a trained nurse, typically in an infusion center, hospital or doctor’s office.
Possible Side Effects
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effect of cyclophosphamide. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. There are some of the most common side effects:
Nausea and/or Vomiting
Talk to your doctor or nurse so they can prescribe medications to help you manage nausea and vomiting. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms.
Call your doctor or nurse if you are unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours or if you feel lightheaded or dizzy at any time.
Your oncology team can recommend medications to relieve diarrhea. Also, try eating low-fiber, bland foods, such as white rice and boiled or baked chicken. Avoid raw fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals and seeds. Soluble fiber is found in some foods and absorbs fluid, which can help relieve diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber include: applesauce, bananas (ripe), canned fruit, orange sections, boiled potatoes, white rice, products made with white flour, oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, and farina. Drink 8-10 glasses on non-alcoholic, un-caffeinated fluid a day to prevent dehydration.
Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)
White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.
Tips to preventing infection:
Loss or Thinning of Scalp and Body Hair (Alopecia)
Your hair may become thin, brittle, or may fall out. This typically begins two to three weeks after treatment starts. This hair loss can be all body hair, including pubic, underarm, legs/arms, eyelashes, and nose hairs. The use of scarves, wigs, hats and hairpieces may help. Hair generally starts to regrow soon after treatment is completed. Remember your hair helps keep you warm in cold weather, so a hat is particularly important in cold weather or to protect you from the sun.
Decrease in Appetite
Nutrition is an important part of your care. Cancer treatment can affect your appetite and, in some cases, the side effects of treatment can make eating difficult. Ask your nurse about nutritional counseling services at your treatment center to help with food choices.
Cyclophosphamide may irritate your bladder, cause blood in your urine, or pain with urination. Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid/day to flush out your bladder. You may be given IV fluids along with the medication to help reduce the chance of bladder irritation. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have difficulty urinating, pain, notice pink or red urine, or bleeding during urination. When given in high doses, your doctor may give you a mediation to protect your bladder.
Your fingernails/toenails may become dark, brittle or fall off. You may notice dry skin or changes in the color or tone of your skin. Your skin may be more sensitive to the sun, which can result in severe sunburn or rash. Sun sensitivity can last even after chemotherapy is completed. Avoid the sun between 10-2pm, when it is strongest. Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) everyday, wear sunglasses and long sleeves/pants to protect your skin. Keep your fingernails and toenails clean and dry. You may use nail polish, but do not wear fake nails. If any nails fall off, clean the nail bed well with soap and water and cover with a band aid.
There is a very low risk of developing leukemia or other type of cancer due to treatment with this medication, which can occur many years after treatment. This is most often associated with repeated treatments or high doses.
This medication may cause lung changes, including pneumonitis (irritation of the lung tissue) and pulmonary fibrosis (a scarring and stiffening of the lung tissue). These problems can develop during treatment, or months to years after treatment is completed. Call your physician right away if you have new or worsening shortness of breath, cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing.
This medication can affect your heart function, cause abnormal heartbeats (afib or aflutter), or an abnormal heart rhythm called QT prolongation. Notify your healthcare provider right away if you develop swelling of the feet or ankles, shortness of breath, have a rapid weight gain, feel abnormal heartbeats or if you feel dizzy or faint.
This medication can lead to slower or incomplete wound healing, such as a surgical wound not healing or staying closed. Therefore, it is recommended that the medication be discontinued prior to any surgery. In addition, any surgical incision should be fully healed prior to starting or restarting the medication. If you have a surgical wound that has not healed or begins to have signs of infection (redness, swelling, warmth), report this to your healthcare team.
Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant or father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment and for women for at least 1 year after treatment, and for 4 months after treatment for men. Even if your menstrual cycle stops or you believe you are not producing sperm, you could still be fertile and conceive. You should consult with your healthcare team before breastfeeding while receiving this medication.