Generic Name Brand Name
cytarabine, cytosine arabinoside Ara-C, Cytarabine-U

Cytarabine is given intravenously. Sometimes it is given as a shot under the skin or directly into the spinal fluid. It can be given in a low, average, or high dose.

How It Works

Cytarabine is classified as an antimetabolite. It kills cancer cells by interfering with the way they multiply.

Why It Is Used

Cytarabine is used to treat acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It is sometimes used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and some types of brain tumors.

How Well It Works

Cytarabine is an effective antitumor drug. However, the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this drug slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Cytarabine is often combined with other drugs.

Side Effects

Side effects are common with cytarabine and can include:

  • Decreased white blood cell counts (leukopenia) and red blood cell counts (anemia).
  • Decreased platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), which may lead to bleeding in the digestive tract causing tarry stools. It may also cause bleeding under the skin, in the urine, or other places in the body.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Headaches or seizures.
  • Hair loss. This is reversible, and hair will grow back when treatment ends.
  • Mouth sores (stomatitis).
  • Slurred speech and difficulty walking (ataxia).
  • Peripheral neuropathies , which may be irreversible and may be made worse by exercise. Symptoms include:
    • Numbness and tingling.
    • Unsteadiness when standing or walking.
    • Clumsiness of the hands and feet.
  • Cough and hoarseness.
  • Eye problems, such as blurred vision or the inability to see colors.
  • Kidney damage.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Cytarabine should be used only under the supervision of a medical oncologist or hematologist.

You may not be able to get pregnant or father a child after taking this drug. Discuss this with your doctor before starting treatment.

Cytarabine can cause birth defects. Do not use this medication if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are taking it.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Last Updated: November 26, 2008

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