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Adriamycin – Doxorubicin – Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer


Updated May 09, 2014

Adriamycin (doxorubicin)

Adriamycin (doxorubicin)

Photo © Drugs A-Z

Definition of Adriamycin (Doxorubicin):

Adriamycin is a chemotherapy drug, a type of anthracycline antibiotic that is an anti-tumor drug. It is made from the bacterium Streptomyces.

Use For Breast Cancer:

Adriamycin can be used to treat early-stage or node-postive breast cancer, HER2-positive breast cancer, and metastatic disease. Adriamycin is sometimes combined with cytoxan and/or 5-fluorouracil to make a cocktail of breast-cancer fighting chemotherapy drugs.

Other Uses for Adriamycin:

This drug is also used to treat other cancers, including ovarian, bladder, lung, thyroid and gastric cancers, as well as neuroblastoma, lymphoma, leukemia, and Kaposi's sarcoma.

Also known as:

Adriamycin, Rubex, Doxil, doxorubicin and The Red Devil (informal term)

How Adriamycin Works:

Adriamycin fights cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells. This drug gets inside the DNA of cancer cells and prevents cell replication by inhibiting protein synthesis. Adriamycin also forms oxygen free radicals, which can result in heart and circulatory damage.

How Adriamycin is Given:

This drug is given by injection during a chemotherapy infusion. If the dose of Adriamycin that you are being given is very thick, it may be given as a "push" injection, rather than through an intravenous drip. This red fluid drug will be delivered in a large plastic syringe, which will be attached to your catheter tubing, and your infusion nurse will slowly depress the plunger manually, to inject the Adriamycin into your vein.

Before Beginning Adriamycin Therapy:

Because this drug can cause heart problems, you should have a MUGa scan, LVEF (left ventricular failure) test or heart health evaluation done before starting treatment. This baseline exam will be used to compare with your heart function during and after treatment. Other tests for kidney and liver function may also be needed.

Recommendations During Treatment:

  • Use reliable contraception -- avoid a pregnancy
  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water, to flush your kidneys and bladder
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine -- these dry out your tissues
  • Don't take aspirin, because it thins your blood
  • Don't get vaccinations

Risks of Using Adriamycin:

  • Allergic reaction to adriamycin
  • May harm fetus, if you become pregnant during treatment
  • Possible future infertility
  • Low blood counts, greater danger of infections
  • In some cases, there is a risk of heart damage

Possible Side Effects:

  • Red-colored urine first two days after treatment
  • Neutropenia (low white blood cell count, greater risk of infection)
  • Chemotherapy-induced anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
  • Hair loss, or thin, brittle hair
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Mucositis (irritated mucous membrane in your mouth, stomach, and digestive tract)
  • Amenhorrea (monthly menstrual cycle stops)
  • Changes in nails (brittle or yellowed)
When to Call Your Doctor:
If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor:
  • Fever of 100.5F or higher
  • Pain or redness at your injection site
  • Extravasation (drug leaking into surrounding tissues)
  • Bloody urine or reddish sweat
  • Unusual bruises or persistent bleeding
  • Persistent cough, sore throat, pneumonia
  • Allergic symptoms: shortness of breath, swelling of feet or ankles, rash, swollen throat or tongue


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Doxorubicin Proposed PI Update. Final Approved Label - May 8, 2003. PDF document.

National Cancer Institute. Drug Information - Doxorubicin Hydrochloride. Last Updated: 05/22/2008.

Medline Plus. Drugs & Supplements. Doxorubicin. Last Reviewed - 08/01/2007.

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