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West Florida Hospital
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Medications for Leukemia

The content below is part of the “Health Library” and is not indicative of services available at the facility.

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Medications to Increase Blood Counts

Red and white blood cell counts are affected by leukemia and its treatment. Anemia is a drop in red blood cells that can leave you feeling tired or lightheaded, and looking pale. A drop in white blood cells leaves you vulnerable to infection. Your doctor may recommend specific medications that will help boost your healthy blood cell count to help ease symptoms.

Filgrastim and Pegfilgrastim

Filgrastim and pegfilgrastim are used to help stimulate the production of normal white blood cells. This will help reduce your risk of infection and may help you tolerate larger doses of chemotherapy.

Possible side effects include:

  • Hair loss
  • Rash
  • Bone pain
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
Epoetin Alfa

Epoetin alfa is a duplicate of a hormone that naturally stimulates the production of red cells by the bone marrow. Production will improve your red cell counts, reducing symptoms of anemia.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Cough

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses medications to seek out cancer cells and destroy them. They can be used alone or with other chemotherapy drugs. Because they target cancer cells specifically, the side effects are not as severe as with chemotherapy drugs.

Imatinib

Imatinib is a drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). It reduces the number of cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow. It is taken by mouth.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Headache
Nilotinib

Nilotinib is used to treat those with CML and Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who cannot take other medications, or who are resistant to them. It is taken by mouth twice per day.

Possible side effects include:

  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Drop in white blood cell or platelet counts
Dasatinib

Dasatinib is used to treat those with CML and Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who cannot take other medications, or who are resistant to them. It is taken by mouth twice per day.

Possible side effects include:

  • Fluid retention
  • Drop in white blood cell or platelet counts
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

Revision Information

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (ALL) management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116388/Acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-lymphoma-ALL. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML. Updated July 6, 2016. October 4, 2016.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114637/Chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-CLL-Small-lymphocytic-leukemia-SLL. Updated March 7, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

  • Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115889/Chronic-myeloid-leukemia-CML. Updated March 19, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2016.

  • Dasatinib. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/dasatinib. Updated September 17, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2016.

  • Nilotinib. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/nilotinib. Updated September 18, 2014. Accessed February 4, 2016.

  • Targeted therapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003024-pdf.pdf. Accessed February 4, 2016.