Posted on December 3rd, 2008 by

Class: Chemotherapy

Generic Name: Carmustine (kar-MUS-teen), BCNU
Trade Name: BiCNU®

For which conditions is this drug approved? Carmustine is FDA approved for the treatment of the following conditions: several types of brain tumors (including glioblastoma, brainstem glioma, medulloblastoma, astrocytoma, ependymoma and metastatic brain tumors); multiple myeloma in combination with prednisone; recurrent Hodgkin’s lymphoma in combination with other agents; recurrent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in combination with other agents. It is important for patients to remember that physicians have the ability to prescribe medication for conditions other than those for which the drug has been approved by the FDA. Patients who have received a prescription of this drug for a condition other than which it is approved may wish to discuss this issue with their physician.
What is the mechanism of action? Carmustine belongs to a group of drugs referred to as nitrosoureas. Carmustine produces its anti-cancer effects by causing chemical reactions that result in damage to both DNA and amino acids in a cell. The DNA and amino acid damage caused by carmustine ultimately result in cell death.

How is carmustine typically given (administered)? Carmustine is given intravenously (into a vein), and the dose depends on several factors, including the condition being treated, the size of the patient, the particular regimen being used and the overall health of the patient. Carmustine is also produce in a wafer form that can be directly implanted into the brain (see Gliadel® wafer). Carmustine is unique from several chemotherapy agents in that it is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier (a protective barrier surrounding the brain and spinal cord).

How are patients typically monitored? Patients will usually have scheduled meetings with their healthcare provider while they are being treated with carmustine. Typically, blood will be drawn to check levels of blood cells and to monitor functions of some organ systems such as the liver and kidneys. Patients may also undergo physical examinations, scans or other measures to assess side effects and response to therapy. Although uncommon, treatment with carmustine may cause serious damage to the lungs. Therefore, pulmonary function tests may also be performed prior to treatment and during treatment with carmustine. Blood pressure is typically monitored during administration.

What are the common (occur in 30% or more of patients) side effects of treatment with carmustine?

• Low white blood cell levels – increases risk of infection
• Low platelet levels – increases risk of bleeding
• Nausea and vomiting
• Pain or burning at administration site, usually associated with rapid infusion rate
• Redness of face, skin flushing, usually associated with rapid infusion rate

What are the less common (occur in 10% to 29% of patients) side effects of treatment with carmustine?

• Abnormalities in liver function levels as determined by blood tests; hepatic disease with high dose therapy
• Low red blood cell levels  - increases risk of anemia and transfusions
• Dizziness
• Loss of balance or coordination
• Abnormalities of the eye  (redness, visual changes)
• Reduced blood pressure

This is not a complete list of side effects. Some patients may experience other side effects that are not listed here. Patients may wish to discuss with their physician the other less common side effects of this drug, some of which may be serious.

Some side effects may require medical attention. Other side effects do not require medical attention and may go away during treatment. Patients should check with their physician about any side effects that continue or are bothersome.

What are the possible late side effects of treatment with carmustine? With the use of this drug, there is risk of developing side effects months or years after treatment has been completed.  In some instances a secondary malignancy may occur as a result of receiving carmustine.  A secondary malignancy is a new cancer that is unrelated to the cancer that was initially treated. Secondary malignancies occur as a result of previous treatment with radiation or chemotherapy. Sterility may also occur as a result of treatment with carmustine. In addition, damage to the lungs can occur years following treatment. Patients should discuss these late side effects with their physician.

What can patients do to help alleviate or prevent discomfort and side effects?

• Pay careful attention to the physician’s instructions and inform the physician of any side effects.
• Maintain adequate rest and nutrition.
• Wear sunscreen and protective clothing and try to minimize sun exposure.
• Drink plenty of fluids. (Patients should ask their physician about the amount of liquid to consume during a day.)
• If possible, avoid large crowds or people who are sick or not feeling well, as this drug may leave some patients susceptible to infection.
• Wash hands often to reduce the risk of infection.
• Avoid activities that may cause injury or bruising.
• Use a soft toothbrush and an electric razor to prevent cuts on the mouth or skin.
• Eat small meals frequently to help alleviate nausea.

Are there any special precautions patients should be aware of before starting treatment?

• Patients should inform their physician if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a family in the near future. This drug may cause birth defects. It is important to use some kind of birth control while undergoing treatment. Also, patients may want to talk to their physician if they are considering having children in the future, since some drugs may cause fertility problems.
• It is important that patients inform their physician of any pre-existing conditions (chicken pox, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, etc.) as they may worsen with this drug.
• Patients should inform their physician of any other medication they are taking (whether prescription or over-the-counter, including vitamins, herbs, etc.) as they may interfere with treatment.
• Patients should check with their physician before starting any new drug or nutritional supplement.
• Patients should inform their physician of any known drug or food allergies or any reactions to medications they have experienced in the past.
• Since this drug can cause dizziness or loss of coordination, patients should refrain from driving or operating heavy machinery until their response to therapy with carmustine has been established.

When should patients notify their physician?

• Fever
• Chills
• Flu or cold-like symptoms
• Signs of infection – redness, pus, swelling, tenderness
• Sore throat
• Severe, prolonged fatigue
• Unexplained bleeding (nosebleeds, blood in urine, black tarry stools, bruising, etc.)
• Visual changes
• Hearing changes
• Dizziness, loss of balance
• Yellowing of skin or eyes
• Change in color or urine or stool
• Swelling of ankles, feet or face
• Persistent nausea and vomiting
• Difficulty breathing

What is a package insert?
A package insert is required by the FDA and contains a summary of the essential scientific information needed for the safe and effective use of the drug for healthcare providers and consumers.  A package insert typically includes information regarding specific indications, administration schedules, dosing, side effects, contraindications, results from some clinical trials, chemical structure, pharmacokinetics and metabolism of the specific drug. By carefully reviewing the package insert, you will get the most complete and current information about how to safely use this drug. If you do not have the package insert for the drug you are using, your pharmacist or physician may be able to provide you with a copy.

Copyright © 2016 CancerConnect Last updated 07/10.

Important Limitations of Use

The information provided above on the drug you have selected is provided for your information only and is not a substitute for consultation with an appropriate medical doctor. We are providing this information solely as a courtesy and, as such, it is in no way a recommendation as to the safety, efficacy or appropriateness of any particular drug, regimen, dosing schedule for any particular cancer, condition or patient nor is it in any way to be considered medical advice. Patients should discuss the appropriateness of a particular drug or chemotherapy regimen with their physician.

As with any printed reference, the use of particular drugs, regimens and drug dosages may become out-of-date over time, since new information may have been published and become generally accepted after the latest update to this printed information. Please keep in mind that health care professionals are fully responsible for practicing within current standards, avoiding use of outdated regimens, employing good clinical judgment in selecting drugs and/or regimens, in calculating doses for individual patients, and verifying all dosage calculations.



The prescribing physician is solely responsible for making all decisions relating to appropriate patient care including, but not limited to, drugs, regimens, dose, schedule, and any supportive care.

Tags: C, Chemotherapy

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