Hydroxyurea (Generic Name)

Other Names: Hydrea®

About This Drug

Hydroxyurea is used to treat cancer. This drug is given by mouth (orally).

Possible Side Effects

  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may raise your risk of infection, make you tired and weak (fatigue), and raise your risk of bleeding.
  • Soreness of the mouth and throat. You may have red areas, white patches, or sores that hurt.
  • Nausea and throwing up (vomiting). These symptoms may happen within a few hours after your treatment and may last up to 8 hours. Medicines are available to stop or lessen these side effects.
  • Decreased appetite (decreased hunger)
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) that may last for a few days
  • Constipation (not able to move bowels)
  • Hair loss. You may notice hair getting thin. Some patients lose their hair. Your hair often grows back when treatment is done. Most often hair loss is temporary; your hair should grow back when treatment is done.
  • Rash
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Dry cough or trouble breathing
  • Darkening of the skin or nails
  • Changes to the color of your skin
  • This drug may affect how your kidneys work. Your kidney function will be checked as needed.
  • Changes in your liver function. Your doctor will check your liver function as needed.
  • Tumor lysis: This drug may act on the cancer cells very quickly. This may affect how your kidneys work. Your doctor will monitor your kidney function.
  • This drug may raise your risk of getting a second cancer

Treating Side Effects

  • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of routine, gentle cleaning of your teeth or dentures and rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after each meal and at bedtime.
  • If you have mouth sores, avoid mouthwash that has alcohol. Also avoid alcohol and smoking because they can bother your mouth and throat.
  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake due to some other health problem. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you throw up or have loose bowel movements you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack water in the body due to losing too much fluid).
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that is available to help stop or lessen nausea and vomiting.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that is available to help stop or lessen loose bowel movements.
  • If you get a rash do not put anything on it unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medicine if your rash bothers you.
  • If you are dizzy, get up slowly after sitting or lying.

Important Information

  • You can take this medicine with or without food.  If you have nausea, take it with food.
  • Swallow the medicine whole.  Do not chew, break or crush it.
  • Use safety precautions when handling. Wear gloves when handling. Avoid exposure to crushed or open capsules. Wash hands very well after handling capsules and/or the medicine bottle.
  • Take this medicine at the same time each day.
  • Store this medicine in the original container at room temperature.
  • Missed dose: If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you think about it.  If it is close to your next dose, then skip the missed dose and go back to your normal schedule.  Do not take 2 doses at the same time or extra doses.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of hydroxyurea with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are taking at this time. The safety and use of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often not known. Using these might affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor's help.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Rash or itching
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling that your heart is beating in a fast or not normal way (palpitations)
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) more than 4 times a day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision or other changes in eyesight
  • Pain when passing urine; blood in urine
  • Pain in your lower back or side
  • Feeling confused or agitated
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than 3 times a day
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain may go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes pain is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
  • Symptoms of a stroke such as sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm, or leg, mostly on one side of your body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, feeling dizzy, loss of balance or coordination; or sudden, bad headache with no known cause.  If you have any of these symptoms for 2 minutes, call 911. 
  • Signs of liver problems: dark urine, pale bowel movements, bad stomach pain, feeling very tired and weak, unusual itching, or yellowing of the eyes or skin

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Change in hearing, ringing in the ears
  • Decreased urine
  • Unusual thirst or passing urine often
  • Pain in your mouth or throat that makes it hard to eat or drink
  • Nausea that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Rash that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Heavy menstrual period that lasts longer than normal
  • Numbness, tingling, decreased feeling or weakness in fingers, toes, arms, or legs
  • Trouble walking or changes in the way you walk, feeling clumsy when buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine hand motions
  • Swelling of legs, ankles, or feet
  • Weight gain of 5 pounds in one week (fluid retention)
  • Lasting loss of appetite or rapid weight loss of five pounds in a week
  • Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Painful, red, or swollen areas on your hands or feet
  • No bowel movement for 3 days or if you feel uncomfortable
  • Extreme weakness that interferes with normal activities
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) 4 times or loose bowel movements with lack of strength or a feeling of being dizzy

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Sexual problems and reproduction concerns may happen. In both men and women, this drug may affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your treatment. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking.
    • In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations.
    • In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are getting this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period.
    • Women may go through signs of menopause (change of life) like vaginal dryness or itching. Vaginal lubricants can be used to lessen vaginal dryness, itching, and pain during sexual relations.
    • Genetic counseling is available for you to talk about the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. Also, a genetic counselor can look at the possible risk of problems in the unborn baby due to this medicine if an exposure happens during pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
  • Breast feeding warning: Women should not breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and badly harm a breast feeding baby.

Revised November 2014

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