Hydroxycarbamide (also called hydroxyurea)


What is it?

Hydroxycarbamide is a chemotherapy drug, see chemotherapy sheet for background information. Chemotherapy kills cancerous cells which divide and grow rapidly. However healthy cells which grow quickly are also affected by the chemotherapy which is why patients can get side effects.


What is it used for?

Hydroxycarbamide is mainly used to treat polycythaemia rubra vera and essential thrombocythaemia when treatment is required for these conditions. Hydroxycarbamide can also be used in sickle cell disease, chronic myeloid leukaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia and other conditions.

How does it work?

Hydroxycarbamide blocks new DNA from being made which is essential for a cell to grow and divide, therefore hydroxycarbamide stops new cell formation.


How is it given?

Hydroxycarbamide is given in the form of a tablet and is never given as an injection.


What are the most important side effects?

The most important side effect to be aware of is neutropenic sepsis. This will be explained to you before you start treatment. Chemotherapy affects the bone marrow so that blood cells are not produced in the normal way. This is only temporary, but leaves the body vulnerable to infection as the immune system will not be able to fight against infection in the normal way. Therefore please read the neutropenic sepsis page for full information about what to do if you feel unwell.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea. This is because the lining of the gut grows relatively quickly and therefore is affected by the chemotherapy. Other medications are often used when chemotherapy is given to minimise these side effects.

These may sound like a lot of side effects but please speak to the Nursing staff or Doctors if you are worried or concerned at any point.


Further information

Hydroxycarbamide at Macmillian cancer support



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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