Carmustine (Generic Name)

Other Names: BCNU, bischloronitrosourea

About This Drug

Carmustine is a drug used to treat cancer. This drug is given in the vein (IV).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • 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.
  • Phlebitis. This is redness and tenderness of a vein
  • Nausea and throwing up (vomiting). These symptoms may happen within a few hours after your treatment and may last up to 24 hours. Medicines are available to stop or lessen these side effects.
  • Changes in your liver function.  Your doctor will check your liver function as needed. 

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Facial flushing
  • This drug may affect how your kidneys work. Your kidney function will be checked as needed.
  • Soreness of the mouth or throat.  You may have red areas, white patches, or sores that hurt.
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Changes in lung tissue may happen with large amounts of this drug. These changes may not last forever, and your lung tissue may go back to normal. Sometimes these changes may not be seen for many years. You may get a cough or have trouble catching your breath.

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

  • 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).
  • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of regular, 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 every meal and at bedtime.
  • If you have mouth sores, avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can bother your mouth and throat.
  • If you feel dizzy, get up slowly after sitting or lying down.
  • While getting this drug in your IV, please tell your nurse right away if you have any pain, redness, or swelling at the site of the IV infusion.

Food and Drug Interactions 

Do not take Vitamin A supplements while you are being treated with carmustine.

This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication 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 above
  • Chills
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing 
  • Rash or itching
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) more than 4 times a day or diarrhea with weakness or feeling lightheaded
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than 3 times a day
  • Signs of liver problems: dark urine, pale stools, bad stomach pain, feeling very tired or 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:

  • 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
  • Heavy menstrual period that lasts longer than normal
  • Lasting loss of appetite or rapid weight loss of five pounds in a week
  • Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities
  • Extreme weakness that interferes with normal activities

Sexual Problems and Reproductive Concerns

  • Infertility Warning: Sexual problems and reproduction concerns may occur.  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 experience 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 July 2014

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