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Irinotecan is used in the treatment of ovarian cancer, small cell lung cancer, cervical cancer and cancer of colon and rectum

How it works

Irinotecan is an inhibitor of Topoisomerase, an enzyme important for replication of genetic material (DNA) in the cancer cells. Thus it stops the growth and multiplication of cancer cells.

Common side effects

Fatigue, Nausea, Vomiting, Fever, Hair loss, Sepsis, Infection, Constipation, Diarrhoea, Anemia, Reduced blood platelets, Decreased white blood cell count, Decreased white blood cell count (neutrophils)

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Expert advice

• You will be monitored for blood cell counts before each treatment session. 
• Seek immediate medical attention if you notice passage of blood in stools or experience dizziness or faintness, continuous episodes of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea or fever.
• Tell your doctor if you have received radiation therapy in the past.
• Inform your doctor if you have diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol or high blood pressure or any liver or kidney or heart or lung disorders. .
• Do not drive or operate any machines as irinotecan may cause drowsiness, dizziness or blurred vision.
• Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.
• Patients allergic to irinotecan or any of its ingredients should not take it.
• Patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease and or bowel obstruction should not take it.
• Patients with severe liver disease or severe bone marrow failure should not take it.
• Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking it.

Frequently asked questions


Q. Is irinotecan a vesicant?
Irinotecan is not a known vesicant but a precaution should be taken to avoid severe local tissue damage upon extravasation (leaking of injected Azacitidine into the surrounding tissues from the site of administration) when injected

Q. Is irinotecan chemotherapy?
Yes. Irinotecan is chemotherapy, used in the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer

Q. Does Irinotecan cause hair loss?
No, Irinotecan is not known to cause hair loss

Q. Why does irinotecan cause diarrhea?
Irinotecan damages rapidly dividing normal and cancer cells. Chemotherapy with irinotecan damages normal cells of gastrointestinal tract, leading to a disruption in the fluid balance that they maintain. Specifically, absorption of fluid from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract back into the body is decreased and secretion of fluid and electrolytes in the stool is increased. This causes watery bowel movements, i.e diarrhea

Q. Does irinotecan cure cancer?
No. irinotecan can improve symptoms and prolong life of a patient.

Content on this page was last updated on 13 January, 2017, by Dr. Varun Gupta (MD Pharmacology)