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Brand names:

Camptosar®, Onivyde®

Other names:

Liposomal irinotecan, CPT-11

Often used for:

Brain tumors, neuroblastoma, Ewing sarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, other solid tumors

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What is irinotecan?

Irinotecan is a type of chemotherapy. It works by stopping or slowing the growth of cells. This medicine may be given in the clinic, hospital, or at home. 

A lab test may be performed to see how quickly a patient breaks down irinotecan.  Your care team will order certain tests to check blood counts and monitor liver and kidney function. The dose of irinotecan may change based on lab tests. 

When given by IV, irinotecan by IV can cause tissue damage if it leaks from the vein. Tell your care team if your child has pain, burning, redness, or swelling around the IV site. 

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May be taken as a liquid by mouth

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May be given into a vein by IV

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Possible side effects

  • Diarrhea 
  • Dehydration 
  • Hair loss
  • Flu-like symptoms such as chills, aches, fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Mouth sores
  • Stomach or back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Runny nose
  • Increase in sweat, tears, or saliva
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling weak or tired 
  • Sleep problems
  • Skin rash or irritation
  • Low blood counts (This may cause increased risk of infection, bleeding, anemia, or fatigue.)
  • Change in the normal menstrual cycle  
  • Liver problems  

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 irinotecan 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. Find more information on side effects.

Possible long-term or late effects

Patients who take irinotecan may be at risk for medical problems that continue or develop later in life. These can include problems with fertility, or the ability to get pregnant or father a child. Your care team can give you more information about your child’s risk.

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Tips for patients and families

Be sure to discuss all questions and instructions with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • This medicine can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infection. Wash hands often, keep patient areas clean, and avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • This medicine may cause diarrhea. Your care team may recommend medicines or foods to help manage the diarrhea. If your child has severe diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe IV fluids.
  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of liquids.
  • Your care team may prescribe medicine to reduce nausea and vomiting.
  • This medicine may cause mouth sores. Good dental hygiene, a soft food diet, lip care, and ice therapy can help prevent and treat mouth sores. Your care team may prescribe a mouth rinse to keep the mouth clean and help with irritation.
  • While taking this medicine, your child should not eat grapefruit or Seville (bitter) oranges or drink juice or beverages containing grapefruit or Seville orange.
  • Certain medicines can interact with irinotecan or change the levels of the medicine in the blood. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all medicines, vitamins, and supplements your child takes.
  • It is important that patients tell the care team if they are sexually active, pregnant, or breastfeeding.
  • Sexually active patients should take steps to prevent pregnancy during treatment and for 6 months after treatment is complete.

Irinotecan at home:

  • Liquid medicine by mouth:
    • The oral liquid should be taken on an empty stomach.
    • The medicine can be mixed with cranberry-grape juice (or other fruit juice that does not contain grapefruit or Seville orange) or a flavored syrup right before it is taken.
  • Throw away syringes for liquid medicine after each use. Do not reuse.
  • If vomiting occurs within 30 minutes of taking irinotecan by mouth, give another dose of medicine.
  • Give a missed dose as soon as possible. If it is near the time for the next dose, skip the missed dose. Do not give 2 doses at the same time.
  • Store liquid medicine in the refrigerator.
  • Do not use the medicine past the expiration date.

This medicine can pose a health risk to caregivers or others who come in contact with the medicine. Follow instructions for safe handling, storage, and disposal. Keep all medicines out of the reach of children and pets.