5-Fluorouracil, also known as Efudex, Adrucil and Fluroplex is a chemotherapy agent often used as combination therapy in treating stomach cancer.
It is described as an antimetabolite drug as it interferes with enzymes required for production of DNA, the basic building blocks to life. The result is cell death through prevention of cell division.
It was one of the first chemotherapy drugs developed for treating a variety of gastrointestinal cancers including bowel, pancreatic and of course stomach malignancies.
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This drug is normally administered in an injectable form. Like other agents, it is normally administered through a central or midline as it can cause localised inflammation in a smaller vein.
It is normally given by a qualified practitioner, usually a nurse under the guidance of your oncologist who will work out the appropriate dose for you.
As with any drug, side effects can be an issue with 5-Fluorouracil although in most cases these can be predicted and dealt with accordingly.
They may include:
Diarrhea and Vomiting
Loss of appetite
Increased risk of infection
Photosensitivity – rashes can occur on exposure to sunlight so you must cover up in the sun.
Myocarditis or inflamed heart muscle
If you have been feeling unwell or developed any fevers, you must inform your oncologist prior to starting therapy as you could be at increased harm when the drug is administered.
After the drug has been given, you should look out for the potential side effects and report anything untoward that might have happened to you.
In particular, if you develop any fevers, chest pain, breathlessness or bleeding you should contact your cancer specialist urgently as it could signal a problem with neutropenia or low white cell count, related to your chemo and increasing infection risk.
You should also take contraceptive measures if you are a woman on these drugs as they are teratogenic i.e. they cause abnormalities to the baby if you conceive whilst on them.
5-Fluorouracil is rarely used these days as monotherapy. It is usually used in combination with other chemotherapy agents and studies have shown response rates of anything between 30 and 50% in advanced stomach cancer.