Posted on April 28th, 2009 by

Class: Chemotherapy

Generic Name: Mechlorethamine (me-klore-ETH-eh-meen),Nitrogen Mustard, Mustine, Mechlorethamine Hydrochloride
Trade Name: Mustargen®

How is this drug used? Mechlorethamine is FDA approved for the treatment of advanced Hodgkin’s disease, lymphosarcoma, chronic myelocytic or chronic lymphocytic leukemia, polycythemia vera, mycosis fungoides, bronchogenic carcinoma, and metastatic cancer resulting in effusion. 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? Mechlorethamine belongs to a group of drugs called alkylating agents.  Alkylating agents produce their anti-cancer effects by causing a chemical reaction that damages the DNA in a cell.  The chemical reaction, called interstrand cross-linking, inhibits the cancer cell to grow or replicate and/or ultimately causes cellular death.

How is mechlorethamine given (administered)? Mechlorethamine may be administered into a vein (intravenous), into the abdomen (intraperitoneal), into the lining surrounding the heart (intrapericardial), into the lining surrounding the lungs (intrapleural), or directly onto cancer on the skin 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.

When being administered intravenously, if the drug escapes from the vein in which it is being administered, it may cause serious damage to the tissue that it comes in contact with.  Although patients will be monitored for this, they should tell their healthcare provider immediately if they experience pain, redness or swelling at the site in which the drug is being administered.

How are patients monitored? Patients will usually have scheduled meetings with their healthcare provider while they are being treated with mechlorethamine.  Typically, blood will be drawn to check levels of blood cells and to monitor functions of some organ systems, such as the kidneys or liver.  Patients may also undergo physical examinations, scans or other measures to assess for side effects and response to therapy.

In addition, some patients may be susceptible to developing a condition called tumor lysis syndrome, in which electrolyte and metabolic disturbances occur. Tumor lysis syndrome can be prevented if treated at an early stage. Blood tests will measure levels of electrolyte and metabolic products, and patients should contact their healthcare provider if they experience symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, clouding of urine, lethargy and/or joint discomfort.

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

• Low white blood cell levels – increases the risk of infection
• Low red blood cell levels – increases the risk of anemia and blood transfusions
• Low platelet levels – increases the risk of bleeding
• Mouth sores?
• Nausea and vomiting
• Loss of hair
• Redness, dryness, swelling, irritation of skin if used topically
• Infertility
• Darkening of vein that drug is administered into

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

• Fever
• Diarrhea
• Loss of appetite
• Hearing changes
• Abnormal levels of metabolic products in the blood
• Menstrual irregularities

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 mechlorethamine?
Patients are at a slightly increased risk of developing a secondary malignancy caused by treatment with mechlorethamine.  A secondary malignancy is a new and unrelated cancer that occurs in an individual as a result of previous treatment with radiation or chemotherapy.  Patients should ask their physician about the possibility of developing a secondary malignancy as a result of their treatment.

Patients may also experience impaired sperm production and infertility.

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.
• Eat small meals frequently to help alleviate nausea.
• If patients have been prescribed an anti-nausea medication, they should be sure to take the prescribed doses.
• Avoid activities that may cause injury or bruising.
• Use a soft toothbrush and an electric razor to prevent cuts on the mouth or skin.
• For mouth sores, patients should rinse their mouth three times a day with a salt and soda solution (8 ounces of water mixed with ½ to 1 tsp baking soda and/or ½ to 1 tsp salt) and brush their teeth with a soft toothbrush to help prevent the development of mouth sores.
• Patients who experience hot flashes may wish to wear light clothing, stay in a cool environment, and place cool cloths on their body or head to relieve their symptoms.

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.

When should patients notify their physician?

• Signs of tumor lysis syndrome: nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, clouding of urine, lethargy and/or joint discomfort
• Blistering or persistent pain, redness or swelling at the site of the drug administration.
• Flu or cold-like symptoms: fever, chills, sore throat, cough
• Signs of infection – redness, swelling, pus, tenderness
• Unexplained or excessive bleeding (nosebleeds, bruising, black tarry stools, blood in the urine, etc.)
• Yellowing of skin or eyes
• Change in color or urine or stool
• Acute or persistant nausea or vomiting
• Acute or persistant diarrhea
• Mouth sores
• Severe or persistant fatigue or weakness
• Numbness of tingling of hands or feet
• Swelling of feet or lower legs
• Changes in hearing
• Painful rash

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: Chemotherapy, M

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