Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents



Generic NameBrand Name

How It Works

Irinotecan is an anti-tumour drug that interferes with how cancer cells multiply. The dose is based on your body size. The type and extent of a cancer determines the exact dose and schedule for using this drug. Irinotecan is an intravenous (IV) drug.

Why It Is Used

Irinotecan is used to treat cancer of the cervix, colon, or rectum. It may also be used to treat non–small-cell lung cancer.

How Well It Works

Irinotecan is an effective anti-tumour drug for many people. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this drug slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body. Irinotecan is often used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs, making the other drugs more effective than they are by themselves.1

Side Effects

Side effects of irinotecan include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Low blood counts, which may increase your risk of infection or bleeding.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Gas or bloating.
  • Increased sweating and increased saliva.
  • Rash.
  • Temporary hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Changes in kidney and liver function tests.

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

What To Think About

Irinotecan should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.

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

Do not use this medicine if you have:

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



  1. Venook A (2005). Critical evaluation of current treatments of metastatic colorectal cancer. Oncologist, 10(4): 250–261.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised November 1, 2010

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