Cytotoxic Antibiotics

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Cytotoxic antibiotics are used very commonly and widely in many malignancies.

Bleomycin, daunorubicin, doxorubicin, dactinomycin, epirubicin, idarubicin, mitoxantrone and mitomycin.

Direct toxic action on cellular DNA.[1]

  • Solid tumours, eg bladder, gastric, pancreatic and oesophageal.
  • Acute leukaemias.
  • Lymphomas.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer - doxorubicin (see National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance).[2]
  • Metastatic germ cell tumours and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - bleomycin.
  • Radiotherapy - some cytotoxic antibiotics can result in toxicity.
  • Irreversible cardiotoxicity - must be used cautiously in patients with previous cardiac illness.[3] (A liposomal formulation of doxorubicin is available which is associated with less cardiotoxicity.)
  • Liver impairment.
  • Skin reactions - especially with doxorubicin.
  • Myelosuppression - usually occurs at 2-4 weeks with complete recovery by eight weeks.[4] Rare with bleomycin, whereas mitomycin is associated with delayed myelosuppression.
  • Extravasation causes severe skin necrosis.
  • Excreted in bile; therefore, it is necessary to monitor bilirubin levels - if high, dose reduction is needed.
  • Associated with cardiac toxicity - this is rare and includes supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and cardiomyopathies (related to dose).

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Further reading & references

  1. What are the different types of chemotherapy drugs?, American Cancer Society, Apr 2005
  2. Ovarian cancer (advanced) - paclitaxel, pegylated liposomal doxorubicin hydrochloride and topotecan; NICE Technology Appraisal, 2005
  3. Safra T; Cardiac safety of liposomal anthracyclines. Oncologist. 2003
  4. Rang HP, Dale MM, Ritter JM and Moore PK. (2003) Pharmacology, 5th ed, Bath, Churchill Livingstone
Original Author:
Dr Gurvinder Rull
Current Version:
Dr Gurvinder Rull
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
310 (v3)
Last Checked:
19 January 2012
Next Review:
17 January 2017

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