Fluorouracil is one of the commonly used chemotherapy drugs that helps to treat many types of cancers. It is an anti-metabolite that interferes with the action of the normal metabolism of cancer cells to kill them.
It is used in combination with other drugs to treat cancer. It is commonly known as 5-FU as the chemical name is 5-fluorouracil.
It is either given through infusion (I.e., drip) or injection into the veins of the patient in a chemotherapy center. It can be administered to the patient for different periods depending upon the type and stage of cancer.
The number of doses and sessions will also vary. It is also administered through the skin as a cream. It can be applied twice a day to treat cancer-related skin areas for a week.
Which cancer does it treat?
Fluorouracil is used to treat several types of cancers such as:
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Anal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Skin cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Hepatobiliary cancer etc.
Fluorouracil is a commonly used drug to treat many types of cancer.
How it works
Fluorouracil works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells in the body. The medicine works as an anti-metabolite which interferes with the division of cancer cells.
Cancer cells divide rapidly as compared to normal cells. These cells divide at a much faster rate and spread to the surroundings of their origin. This led to the formation of tumors in the body.
Chemotherapy in these cases works by killing these cancer cells via different methods. There are many different types of chemotherapy drugs available in the market that are used to kill cancer cells in the body. These different drugs have multiple mechanisms of action which lead to the death of cancer cells.
Although chemotherapy is an effective way to destroy cancer cells in patients’ bodies, it is not able to differentiate between cancer cells and normal cells.
Chemotherapy drugs can effectively stop the growth of rapidly dividing cells. But the side effects of chemotherapy include the destruction of healthy fast-growing cells such as hair. Hair loss is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, but it is temporary. As soon as chemotherapy is discontinued, hair cells start to grow again.
Fluorouracil is one such chemotherapy drug that inhibits the synthesis of DNA or RNA in the cells. DNA is important to produce growth protein which eventually causes the growth of cells.
As cancer cells are rapidly reproducing, they require these proteins. Whereas fluorouracil mimics the structure of pyrimidines, a building block of DNA, it interferes with the synthesis of DNA. Hence eventually stopping the cancer cells from growing.
What are the side effects of fluorouracil?
There are a few commonly observed side effects of fluorouracil that affects the patient taking chemotherapy, such as:
Loss of appetite or feeling of fullness
fatigue or dizziness
Dry and chapped skin
Increased sensitivity of eyes toward the light
Inflammation at the site of administration
These are commonly experienced side effects by patients across the world. There are other side effects as well which are not common such as skin reaction to drugs, taste changes, low blood count, hair thinning, etc. If you experience any unusual side effects, immediately contact a doctor.
What precautions must you take while taking fluorouracil?
When a patient is kept under fluorouracil to treat cancer, they must follow some guidelines to avoid any complications. Some of the precautions that you can take to while taking fluorouracil are listed below:
- Discuss with your doctor any medical health condition you are suffering from, or any disorder requiring taking prescription medications. Always tell your doctor about the medication you are taking which could be prescription, homemade remedies, ayurvedic, etc. Before the beginning of chemotherapy. This could help the doctor to avoid giving any drugs which could become fatal.
- While taking fluorouracil, it is advised to not take any kind of vaccination or immunization. If taken, immediately contact your doctor. If the vaccination is taken before the chemotherapy sessions, inform your oncologist about it.
- While taking fluorouracil, it is strictly advised not to get pregnant or inform the doctor if you are already pregnant before the treatment process. It is recommended to use the barrier method of contraception to avoid getting pregnant.
- If a patient is in the breastfeeding phase during chemotherapy, it is advised to avoid breastfeeding the baby, as it can lead to the transfer of the drugs from mother to child which could be life-threatening for the child.
- It is advised to go for regular check-ups. It is recommended to do testing for the normal functioning of the vital organs to check the response of these organs to fluorouracil.
What steps can you take to take care of yourself?
While going under chemotherapy, there are a few steps that you can take to avoid major complications and make the journey of treatment easier. Some of these tips are:
To prevent mouth sores, rinse your mouth with warm water and brush with a soft-bristle toothbrush.
Drink at least 2-3 quarters of fluid a day.
Avoid going out in public or crowded places which could increase your chance of getting an infection. As the body is weakened by chemotherapy and fighting against cancer, cancer patients are more prone to infections.
Ask your doctor to prescribe some medication to manage side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
Avoid eating such food that can worsen the side effects.
Avoid going out in the sun or wear SPF sunscreen before going out.
Avoid alcoholic beverages and eat healthy food only.
Exercise a little to keep the body active.
Avoid eating oily or heavy food which requires a lot of energy to digest
If your symptoms worsen or you experience unusual side effects, consult with your doctor to change the medications.
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