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Idarubicin is given intravenously.

How It Works

Idarubicin kills cancer cells by stopping their growth.

Why It Is Used

Idarubicin is one of the drugs used in chemotherapy to treat acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). AML causes blood cells that are not normal to grow quickly. These bad cells crowd out your good cells. Chemotherapy is used to destroy the abnormal blood cells and make room for new, normal cells to grow.

How Well It Works

Idarubicin works well as part of the chemotherapy for some people with AML. But how well it works may depend on how far along your cancer is.

Side Effects

Side effects are common with idarubicin and can include:

  • Decreased numbers of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Headache or seizures.
  • Cardiac problems, such as an enlarged heart and irregular heartbeat.
  • Hair loss. Hair will grow back when treatment ends.
  • Decreased platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), which may lead to bleeding in the digestive tract causing tarry stools. It may also cause bleeding under the skin, in the urine, or other places in the body.
  • Mouth sores (stomatitis).
  • Peripheral neuropathies, which may be irreversible and may be made worse by exercise. Symptoms include:
    • Numbness and tingling.
    • Unsteadiness when standing or walking.
    • Clumsiness of the hands and feet.
  • Cough and hoarseness.
  • Eye problems such as blurred vision or loss of the ability to see colours.
  • Kidney damage.

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

What To Think About

Idarubicin should be used only under the supervision of a medical oncologist or hematologist.

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

Idarubicin can cause birth defects. Do not use this drug if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are taking it.

Do not use this drug if you have:

  • Had a previous allergic reaction to idarubicin.
  • Heart disease.
  • Kidney damage.
  • A history of gout and kidney stones.

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


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised February 9, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.