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Mercaptopurine is a prescription used for the treatment of a certain type of cancer such as:

AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow which is the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. This condition affects a group of white blood cells called myeloid cells. That normally develops into the various types of mature blood cells like red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Signs and symptoms of AML may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent infections
  • Easy bruising
  • Unusual bleeding (frequent nosebleeds and bleeding from the gums)

CML is an uncommon type of cancer of the bone marrow. This condition causes an increased number of white blood cells in the blood. Typically, this affects older adults and rarely occurs in children, though it may occur at any age. CML often does not cause signs and symptoms. It might be detected during a blood test. When they occur, symptoms may include:

  • Easy bleeding
  • Bone pain
  • Feeling run-down or tired
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive sweating during sleep
  • Pain or fullness below the ribs on the left side

Mercaptopurine is a chemotherapy drug that slows or stops the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing. This medication is classified as an antimetabolite. This damages the DNA or RNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in the division. If the cells are unable to divide, they die. Mercaptopurine is a prescription approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is available in tablet form for oral use. Each scored tablet contains 50 mg Mercaptopurine.

How does Mercaptopurine work?

The bone marrow creates cells called stem cells. These usually develop into the different types of blood cells. When these are mature they leave the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream. In leukemia, the bone marrow produces too many immature white blood cells. These abnormal cells take up space in the bone marrow and result in less room for the production of normal healthy blood cells. Mercaptopurine works by stopping the abnormal blood cells from multiplying. It is by being incorporated into the cells’ genetic material, RNA and DNA. Both RNA and DNA are needed for cells to grow and repair themselves then multiply. This drug causes problems with the production of RNA and DNA in the cancer cells. It causes the cells to grow in an unbalanced way, resulting in the death of the cells. Mercaptopurine usually takes between 6 weeks and 3 months to become fully effective. During that time, you may need to take corticosteroids to maintain control of your disease.

Unfortunately, this drug can also affect normal and healthy cells such as blood and hair cells. Although the aim of treating leukemia with Mercaptopurine is to kill the cancerous blood cells, the most important side effects are on the bone marrow. It is where the blood cells are made. This medication also lessens the production of normal blood cells which can leave people susceptible to infection.

How to use Mercaptopurine?

The recommended dosage is based on your medical condition, age, and response to the treatment. Your doctor may direct you to start at a lower dose and eventually increase it. You should take the right dose, not more or less. Remember to take it at the same time and in the same way each day. Do not suddenly stop taking this medication without the consent of your doctor. It may cause another complication or may worsen your current condition. For the best benefit from this product, take it regularly.

Mercaptopurine is to be taken by mouth usually once a day or as directed by your doctor. You may take each dose with or without a meal. Swallow the tablet as a whole with a full glass of water. Do not break, chew, or crush it. Drink plenty of fluids while having this treatment. Doing so may lessen the risk of certain side effects. If you missed a dose, take it as soon as you remember it. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not double the dose to make up for the missed dose. Let your doctor know if your condition does not improve or if it gets worse.

What are the side effects of Mercaptopurine?

Common side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Darkened skin color
  • Itching or skin rash
  • Temporary hair loss

Tell your doctor if you these unlikely but serious side effects of Mercaptopurine such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Fainting
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Tongue or mouth sores or pain
  • Symptoms of liver disease (dark urine, persistent nausea or vomiting, stomach or abdominal pain, yellowing eyes or skin)

Warnings and Precautions

  • Mercaptopurine should be used with caution in people with decreased kidney or liver function.
  • This should not be used in breastfeeding women.
  • This is not recommended for use if you are allergic to any of its ingredients. Let your doctor know if you have previously experienced such an allergy.
  • The drug may be harmful to a developing baby. This should not be used during pregnancy unless it is recommended by your doctor.
  • Do not share this or any of your prescriptions with others even if they have the same symptoms as yours.
  • Your ability to become pregnant may be affected by this medicine. It is important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.
  • Do not have vaccinations or immunizations while having this treatment without the consent of your doctor.
  • Limit your time in the sun. This may make you more sensitive to the sun.
  • Inform your doctor if you have a medical history of liver disease, kidney disease, or certain enzyme disorder.
  • Avoid contact with people who have infections that may spread to others. Consult your doctor if you have been exposed to an infection.