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Brand names:

Cytosar-U®, Depocyt®

Other names:

Ara-C, Cytosine arabinoside

Often used for:

Leukemias, Lymphomas

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About Cytarabine

Cytarabine is a type of chemotherapy. It works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells. It is usually used in combination with other drugs.

Patients will have regular blood draws to check blood counts and monitor liver and kidney function.

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May be given as a liquid into a vein by IV

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May be given as a liquid under the skin (subcutaneous)

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May be given in the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal)

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Possible Side Effects

  • Mouth sores
  • Sore or red eyes
  • Skin rash
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Tiredness
  • Skin irritation at the IV site
  • Headaches (after intrathecal delivery)
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling in arms and legs

Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include: rash, hives, itching, chills, fever, headache, muscle ache, shortness of breath, coughing, tightness in the throat, swelling of the face or neck.

Not all patients who take cytarabine will experience these side effects. Common side effects are in bold, but there may be others. Please report all suspected side effects to your doctor or pharmacist.

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Possible Late Effects

Some patients may experience long-term or late effects of treatment that may continue or develop months or years after treatment ends. Possible late effects due to cytarabine include:

  • Cognitive problems
  • Changes in behavior
  • Neurologic disorder called ‘leukoencephalopathy’. Signs may include confusion, weakness, difficulty speaking, vision changes, or seizures.
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Tips for Families

Be sure to discuss these and other recommendations with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • A doctor may prescribe medicine to reduce nausea and vomiting.
  • A doctor may recommend eye drops to help decrease sore or red eyes – make sure to use as directed.
  • Sexually active patients should take steps to prevent pregnancy during treatment and for 6 months after completion of therapy.
  • Patients should tell their doctor if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. 
  • Caregivers should follow instructions to avoid contact with patient body fluids, which can contain the drug for 48 hours after it is given.