What is Hydroxyurea?

  • by

Is a chemotherapy agent with a potent effect on the bone marrow. The agent was used for many years to treat people with certain types of cancer. Hydroxyurea is an antineoplastic (cancer fighting) agent available for oral use as capsules to affect certain cells in the body such as cancer cells or sickle red blood cells. It can also be made into a liquid by a compounding pharmacy. Hydroxyurea and blood transfusion are our most powerful treatment options for significant complications in people with Sickle Cell Disease. Hydroxyurea will not cure SCD; however, it has been having surprising results in people with Sickle Cell.

Hydroxyurea helps by creating red blood cells capable to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. It also helps the red blood cells stay round and flexible, which allows them to travel more easily through the tiny blood vessels. This happens because Hydroxyurea increases the amount of fetal hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Fetal hemoglobin is a healthy form of hemoglobin that is resistant to sickling of the red blood cells. Sometimes present in small amounts, it may be abnormally elevated in certain forms of anemia. Taking Hydroxyurea stimulates the bone marrow to produce healthy hemoglobin called fetal hemoglobin, this in turn decreases the amount of sickle hemoglobin produced. This can reduce complications caused by sickle hemoglobin.

It is a powerful medicine given at a much lower dose to children with Sickle Cell Disease. Some of the side effects are headache, stomach ache, or skin rash. Hydroxyurea is a very toxic medication so before and after you take it you should always wash your hands or you can wear gloves. It can also be very toxic to animals. The dose used in the treatment of Sickle Cell Disease does not cause the usual side effects seen with cancer treatments. It does not cause hair loss, vomiting, or loss of appetite.

Talk to your medical provider for more information on Hydroxyurea.

Published in February 2013 newsletter. Written by Okevea Dortch and Denise Bazemore