Arsenic Trioxide (Generic Name)

Other Names: Trisenox™

About This Drug

Arsenic trioxide is used to treat cancer. It is given in the vein (IV).

Possible Side Effects

  • Nausea and throwing up (vomiting )
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lower belly pain
  • Irregular heartbeat. Your heart function will be checked with EKGs and blood work as needed.
  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble catching your breath 
  • Cough
  • Electrolyte changes. Your blood will be checked for electrolyte changes as needed.
  • High blood sugar. Your blood sugar will be checked as needed. 
  • Effects on the nerves. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You may feel numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. It may be hard for you to button your clothes, open jars, or walk normally. The effects on the nerves may get worse with more doses of the drug. These effects get better in some people after the drug is stopped but does not get better in all people. 
  • You may develop a fever, gain weight, or have trouble breathing. This is known as retinoic acid syndrome.  You will be watched for signs of this syndrome.

Allergic Reactions

Serious allergic reactions including anaphylaxis are rare.  While you are getting this drug in your vein (IV), tell your nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms of an allergic reaction:

  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat are swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat quickly  or in a not normal way (palpitations)
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Flushing, itching, rash, and/or hives

Treating Side Effects

  • If you have numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.
  • 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 can help stop or lessen nausea, vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of arsenic trioxide 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:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than 3 times in one day
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) more than 4 times a day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain

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

  • Weight gain of 5 pounds or more in one week
  • 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
  • Lower belly pain or nausea that is not relieved by prescribed medicine
  • Extreme tiredness that interferes with normal activities
  • Ongoing loss of appetite or rapid weight loss (such as 5 pounds in one week)

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Infertility warning: 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 therapy. 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 to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, 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.
    Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, 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.
  • 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 September 2014

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