Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) is a type of anthracycline chemotherapy. It is made from the Streptomyces peucetius bacteria. It is used to treat many types of cancer.

Doxorubicin may also be called Adriamycin PFS, Adriamycin RDF, doxorubicin hydrochloride, hydroxydaunorubicin or Rubex.


How doxorubicin works

Doxorubicin damages the DNA inside the cancer cells. The damage stops the cells from dividing, which causes them to die.


Who gets doxorubicin

Doxorubicin may be used in chemotherapy treatment regimens for most types of invasive breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer. It can also be used with targeted therapy, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), in treating HER2-positive breast cancers.

Doxorubicin can be used after surgery as adjuvant treatment, or as neoadjuvant (before surgery) treatment for breast cancers that require chemotherapy.

It is also sometimes used in metastatic breast cancer.


How doxorubicin is given

Although it can be given alone, doxorubicin is usually given with other chemotherapy medicines. Common combinations used in breast cancer are:

Doxorubicin is given by vein. It is usually given in several cycles with a day (or days) of treatment followed by a period of “off” days. The exact schedule depends on the group of medicines you receive.

In some cases your doctor may recommend a dose-dense schedule, which means medicines are given with less time between treatments than in a standard chemotherapy treatment plan. For example, one common treatment regimen is dose-dense doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) every 2 weeks for four cycles followed by paclitaxel (Taxol) every 2 weeks for four cycles.

An entire course of chemotherapy usually takes from 3 to 6 months.


Side effects and things to remember

Common side effects include:

Less common side effects include:

Before starting doxorubicin, tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter medicines. You should not take doxorubicin during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Share any existing or previous health problems with your doctor, especially if you have a history of heart disease. Your doctor will test you for heart problems before you start treatment with doxorubicin and will monitor your heart closely during treatment. Your doctor may suggest you drink extra fluids to prevent kidney problems.

Seek immediate medical care if you develop fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, swelling or hives or blistering at the IV site.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so that they can help you manage them. You can also go to our section on Side Effects for more information.


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Reviewed and updated: August 31, 2015

Reviewed by: Laura M. Spring, MD


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