You will have cytarabine in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.
During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse. This is who we mean when we mention doctor or nurse in this information.
Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that it is okay for you to have chemotherapy.
You will also see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will ask you about how you have been. If your blood results are all right on the day of your treatment, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your nurse gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs and sometimes steroids before you start. Cytarabine is then given in one of the following ways:
- as an injection under the skin (subcutaneous injection)
- by injection into the spinal fluid (intrathecal)
- through a short thin tube (cannula) that the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand
- through a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line)
- through a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).
Your nurse can give you cytarabine as a slow injection or drip (infusion) into your cannula or line. They usually run the drip through a pump, which gives you the treatment over a set time.
Sometimes a trained nurse may give you your treatment at home and in time may teach you how to self-administer it.
When the chemotherapy is being given
Some people might have side effects while they are having the chemotherapy, including:
Problems at the injection site
Cytarabine is given as a subcutaneous injection into the fatty tissue under the skin. Sometimes, it causes redness and swelling where it’s given (injection site). This can be uncomfortable. To reduce the irritation, your nurse will change the injection site each time you have an injection. They can also give you advice on how to relieve any discomfort.
Your course of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is usually given as a course of several sessions (cycles) of treatment over a few months. The length of your treatment and the number of cycles you have will depend on the type of cancer you're being treated for. Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.
Cytarabine can be given into the spinal fluid to allow the drug to reach the spinal cord and brain. This is called intrathecal chemotherapy.
The doctor numbs an area of skin over your spine with local anaesthetic. They gently insert a needle between two of the spinal bones. This is called a lumbar puncture. They inject the chemotherapy drug through this needle into the spinal fluid. Your cancer doctor and nurse will explain everything in advance so you know what to expect.
You may get a headache after a lumbar puncture. To help prevent this, you need to lie flat for a few hours afterwards and drink plenty of fluids. Any other side effects may be different from those mentioned in this information. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this.