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Bleomycin

(blee-oh-my-sin)

Trade/other name(s): Blenoxane

Why would this drug be used?

Bleomycin is used to treat several types of cancer including testicular cancer, lymphoma, squamous cell cancer of the head, neck, cervix, and other sites. It is also used to treat cancer that has spread to the lungs, to keep fluid from building up between the lungs and chest wall.

How does this drug work?

Bleomycin belongs to the group of chemotherapy drugs known as antibiotics. It stops the growth of cancer cells, which causes the cell to die.

Before taking this medicine

Tell your doctor…

  • If you are allergic to anything, including medicines, dyes, additives, or foods.
  • If you have any medical conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease (including hepatitis), heart disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, gout, or infections. These conditions may require that your medicine dose, regimen, or timing be changed.
  • If you have ever had any breathing problems or lung diseases.
  • If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or if there is any chance of pregnancy. This drug may cause birth defects if either the male or female is taking it at the time of conception or during pregnancy. Check with your doctor about what kinds of birth control can be used with this medicine.
  • If you are breast-feeding. It is not known whether this drug passes into breast milk. If it does, it could harm the baby.
  • If you think you might want to have children in the future. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause sterility. Talk with your doctor about the possible risk with this drug and the options that may preserve your ability to have children.
  • About any other prescription or over-the-counter medicines you are taking, including vitamins and herbs. In fact, keeping a written list of each of these medicines (including the doses of each and when you take them) with you in case of emergency may help prevent complications if you get sick.

Interactions with other drugs

No serious interactions are known at this time. But this does not necessarily mean that none exist.

Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about other medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements, and whether alcohol can cause problems with this medicine.

Interactions with foods

No serious interactions with food are known at this time. Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about whether foods may be a problem.

Tell all the doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists you visit that you are taking this drug.

How is this drug taken or given?

Bleomycin is given by infusion into a vein, either over 10 minutes or as a continuous infusion for 24 hours. It can also be injected into the muscle or under the skin. You may get a very small test dose before you get the full dose of this drug. The dose depends on your size. Before you get bleomycin, you are usually given a special breathing test, which is repeated a few times during treatment.

If the drug is being used to keep fluid from building up around the lungs, it is injected into a tube inserted in your chest. You may be asked to change position to be sure that the medicine reaches all parts of the chest.

Precautions

After you get this drug, it is important to let your doctor know you've had it before you get oxygen, for example, during surgery. Your lungs can be damaged much more easily after you get this drug. Be sure all your doctors know about your treatment with bleomycin.

There is a very small chance that patients with lymphoma will have a serious allergic reaction while receiving bleomycin or the first few hours afterward. Symptoms can include feeling confused or dizzy (due to low blood pressure), fever or chills, shortness of breath, or wheezing. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you notice any of these symptoms as you are being given the drug. If you are at home, call for emergency help (EMS or 911). Your doctor may give you a test dose of the medicine before you receive the full dose to find out if this will be a problem.

Bleomycin causes many patients to have a fever the night they get the drug. Tell your doctor and you will probably get medicine before your next dose to prevent the fever.

Bleomycin can cause serious lung problems in some people. You probably will have a lung test and possibly a chest x-ray before you get the drug. These tests may be repeated several times during treatment. After you have begun taking the drug, tell your doctor or nurse right away if you notice shortness of breath or trouble breathing, especially when it is cold.

Avoid pregnancy during and for at least a few months after treatment, since exposure to this drug may harm the fetus. Talk with your doctor about this.

Possible side effects

You will probably not have most of the following side effects, but if you have any talk to your doctor or nurse. They can help you understand the side effects and cope with them.

Common

  • fever and chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • hair loss, including face and body hair
  • sores in mouth, throat, or on lips
  • skin changes, such as darkened, thickened areas, redness, rash, or dry skin peeling at the fingertips, which can show up 2 or 3 weeks after you get the drug

Less common

  • pain at tumor site
  • pain at place of injection
  • irritation of vein used for giving the drug
  • inflammation of lungs*
  • weight loss

Rare

  • scarring and stiffness of lungs, with trouble breathing or shortness of breath*
  • serious allergic reaction with dizziness, confusion, fever, chills, rapid heart rate, wheezing, or facial swelling, which can happen during or hours after the drug*
  • liver or kidney damage
  • blood clots (heart attack, stroke, or lung damage)
  • inflamed blood vessels
  • death due to lung damage, heart attack, stroke, or other cause

*See "Precautions" section for more detailed information.

There are other side effects not listed above that can also occur in some patients. Tell your doctor or nurse if you develop these or any other problems.

FDA approval

Yes – first approved before 1984 (FDA cannot verify dates of drugs approved before 1984.)

Disclaimer: This information does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for talking with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical needs.


Last Medical Review: 02/11/2010
Last Revised: 02/11/2010