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Antitumor Antibiotics for Chemotherapy


Generic NameBrand Name
bleomycinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
daunorubicinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
doxorubicinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
epirubicinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
idarubicinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
mitomycinCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin
mitoxantroneCerubidine, DaunoXome, Doxil, Idamycin

How It Works

These chemotherapy medicines are called antitumor antibiotics. These antibiotics are not like the antibiotics used to treat infections. Instead, these antitumor antibiotics interfere with the DNA inside cells. This slows or stops cancer cells from growing and keeps them from multiplying.

Why It Is Used

Antitumor antibiotics are used to treat leukemia and cancer, such as bladder cancer.

Mitomycin is used to prevent bladder cancer from coming back (recurring). It is given through a urinary catheter directly into the bladder.

How Well It Works

These medicines work well in treating cancer. But the type and extent of the cancer affects how well this medicine slows or stops the growth of those cancer cells.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Callor other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Passed out (or lost consciousness).

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • A cough or shortness of breath.
  • Sores in your mouth and on your lips.

Bleomycin may cause scarring of the tissue in your lungs (pulmonary fibrosis). This is more likely to happen in elderly people or in people who get a high total dose.

These medicines may cause bone marrow problems. They may also cause other serious side effects, such as heart, liver, or kidney problems. If used over a long period of time, these medicines may weaken the heart muscle.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Fever, headache, or seizures.
  • Hair loss. Hair will grow back when treatment ends.
  • Decreased white blood cell counts and possibly reduced red blood cell and platelet counts.
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers or toes from nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy).
  • Eye problems such as blurred vision or loss of the ability to see colors.
  • A burning feeling in your bladder (with mitomycin). This medicine may also turn urine a bluish-green to purple color for several days.

Other common side effects may include skin problems, such as:

  • Skin rash or colored bumps on the fingertips, elbows, or palms.
  • Darkening or thickening of the skin.
  • Sensitivity to sunlight. You may need to protect your skin from the sun.

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

What To Think About

You may not be able to get pregnant or father a child after taking these medicines. Talk to your doctor about this before you start treatment.

Do not use these medicines if you have had a previous allergic reaction to them, or have heart, liver, lung, or kidney disease.

Check with your doctor before drinking alcoholic beverages or taking medicines that contain aspirin. These may cause bleeding in the stomach if you are getting antitumor antibiotics.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerChristopher G. Wood, MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
Last RevisedApril 30, 2013

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