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What is Cyclophosphamide?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Cyclophosphamide is a chemotherapeutic agent used in the treatment of several types of cancer. In addition, it is used to treat certain autoimmune disorders. Cyclophosphamide is also called cytophosphane. This drug is a type of chemical known as a nitrogen mustard alkylating agent. It is called an alkylating agent because it is capable of adding a chemical group called an alkyl group to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules.

This chemotherapy agent is a prodrug, or drug precursor. When administered to a patient, the drug is in an inactive form. After the drug has been taken, it is converted to an active drug form in the liver. When converted, the active drug has chemotherapeutic activity. The active form of the drug kills cancer cells by adding an alkyl group to cancer cell DNA. This prevents the cells from dividing, and it can cause the cells to die.

The main use of this medication is as a cancer drug for the treatment of leukemia, lymphomas and certain types of solid tumors, such as breast, ovary, bladder and prostate cancer. When used as a cancer drug, cyclophosphamide is given in conjunction with other chemotherapy medications. This combination of chemotherapy drugs is capable of slowing down or stopping the growth of cancer cells.

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Another use of cyclophosphamide is in the treatment of autoimmune disorders. These disorders arise as the result of a dysfunctional immune response. Normally, the immune system attacks only foreign cells, such as bacteria and viruses. In an autoimmune disease, the immune response begins to attack one or more of the body’s own proteins, leading to an inflammatory response against tissues that express these proteins. Autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis sometimes can be treated with this drug.

Most people who take cyclophosphamide experience only the typical side effects associated with chemotherapy drugs. These include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and suppressed bone marrow activity leading to immune system depression. People who take this drug are vulnerable to infection, and any symptoms of infection should be taken seriously. Other potentially serious side effects include blood in the urine, reduced urine output, slow wound healing, easy bruising or bleeding and joint pain.

In addition to these short-term side effects, this chemotherapy drug can cause some serious long-term effects. This is because, even though the drug can slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells, it is a carcinogen. People who take this medication are at increased risk of developing bladder cancer or another type of cancer later in life. This drug also can cause temporary sterility, and it occasionally causes permanent sterility.

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