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This information is about tioguanine a chemotherapy drug used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).
Tioguanine is usually given as tablets. You usually have it as an outpatient. Your cancer doctor or nurse will tell you how often you will have it.
Like all chemotherapy drugs tioguanine can cause side effects, some of which can be serious so it’s important that you read the detailed information below. How chemotherapy affects people varies from person to person. It’s important to read about the side effects so that you know what to expect. Your healthcare team can talk to you more about this and give you advice on how to manage any side effects. Our more detailed information on chemotherapy may also be helpful.
Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have a temperature, feel unwell or have severe side effects, including any we don’t mention here. And if you need to seek medical attention for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and healthcare staff that you are having chemotherapy.
You will usually have tioguanine as an outpatient. During treatment, you will see a doctor who specialises in blood cancers (haematologist) 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 alright 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.
Tioguanine comes as tablets. The nurse or pharmacist will give you the chemotherapy tablets to take when you are at home. Tioguanine tablets should be swallowed whole with a glass of water. Always take your tablets exactly as explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you.
Your nurse or pharmacist may also give you anti-sickness drugs to take. Take all your tablets exactly as they have been explained to you.
If you are sick just after taking the tablets, contact the hospital. You may need to take another dose. If you forget to take a tablet, do not take a double dose. Keep to your regular schedule and let your doctor or nurse know.
Other things to remember about your tablets:
You will have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (or cycles) of treatment over a few months. Tioguanine can be given on its own or in combination with other chemotherapy drugs. This will depend on the type of cancer you have. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about this and the number of cycles you are likely to have.
We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects.
You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may have some side effects that we haven’t listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.
Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.
Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.
This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If the number of white blood cells is low, you are more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.
If you have an infection, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have if:
Symptoms of an infection include:
It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.
The number of white blood cells will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more chemotherapy. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any bruising or bleeding that you can’t explain. This includes:
Some people may need a drip to give them extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. These cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, you may be tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.
You may feel sick in the first few days after chemotherapy. Your doctor will give you anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist tells you. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.
If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids and eat small amounts often. If you continue to feel sick, or if you vomit more than once in 24 hours, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They will give you advice and may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.
If you have diarrhoea, contact the hospital for advice. Try to drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day. It can help to avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.
You may get a sore mouth or mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.
If your mouth is sore:
Feeling tired is a common side effect. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it has finished. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. If you feel sleepy, do not drive or operate machinery.
Tioguanine can cause changes in the way your liver works. These will usually go back to normal after treatment finishes. You will have regular blood tests to check how well your liver is working. Tioguanine may cause the skin and whites of your eyes to become yellow (jaundice). Tell your nurse or doctor straight away if you notice this.
It’s also important to let them know if you get pain in your liver area (upper right hand side of the tummy) or swelling in your feet or legs. These can also be signs of liver changes.
This treatment may cause the cancer/leukaemia cells to break down quickly. This releases uric acid (a waste product) into the blood. The kidneys usually get rid of uric acid but may not be able cope with large amounts. Too much uric acid can cause swelling and pain in the joints, which is called gout.
Your doctor may give you tablets called allopurinol (Zyloric®) to help prevent this. Drinking at least two litres of fluid a day will also help. You will have regular blood tests to check the uric acid levels.
Very rarely, tioguanine may cause a serious problem with your bowels. Signs of this can be severe tummy pain, feeling sick or being sick, diarrhoea and a high temperature. Contact your doctor straight away if you have these symptoms.
Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:
If you have any of these symptoms, contact a doctor straight away.
A blood clot is serious, but can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some medicines can affect chemotherapy or be harmful when you are having it. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking, including vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.
Your doctor may advise you not to drink alcohol while you're taking tioguanine.
Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or father a child. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.
Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or father a child while having this treatment. The drugs may harm the developing baby. It is important to use effective contraception during your treatment.
If you have sex in the first few days after chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluids.
Chemotherapy can sometimes stop the ovaries working. You may not get a period every month and they may eventually stop. In some women, this is temporary, but for others it is permanent and they start the menopause.
Women are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.
If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.
If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.
Order booklets or audio CDs about chemotherapy. It includes how it works, having treatment and how it might affect you.
All types of treatment can have different side effects. Know what to expect to help you find the best way for you to handle them.
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