Arsenic Trioxide (Generic Name)

Other Names: Trisenox™

About This Drug

Arsenic trioxide is used to treat cancer. It is given intravenously (IV).

Possible Side Effects

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lower belly pain
  • Irregular heart beat. Your heart function will be checked with EKGs and blood work as needed.
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty catching your breath 
  • Cough
  • Electrolyte changes.  Your blood will be checked for electrolyte changes as needed.
  • High blood sugar.  Your blood sugar will be checked as needed 
  • Effects on the nerves called peripheral neuropathy. You may feel numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. It may be difficult for you to button your clothes, open jars, or walk normally. The effect on the nerves may get worse with additional doses of the drug. These effects get better in some people after the drug is stopped but it may not get better in some people. 
  • You may develop a fever, gain weight, or have trouble breathing. This is known as retinoic acid syndrome.  You will be watched for signs of this syndrome.

Sexual Problems and Reproductive Concerns

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.

Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred. 

Breast Feeding Warning: Women are advised not to breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.

Treating Side Effects

  • Be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects or hot liquids.
  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids every day unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake due to another medical condition. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that can help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of arsenic trioxide with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly 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 advice.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to this drug may occur in some patients. Tell your nurse right away if you are experiencing signs of allergic reaction. Signs of an allergic reaction may include:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)
  • Shortness of breath

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms while at home:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than 3 times in one day
  • Diarrhea of 4 or 5 stools in one day
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Weight gain of 5 pounds or more in one week
  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or burning feeling in your feet or hands
  • Difficulty walking or changes in the way you walk
  • Clumsiness in buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine activities
  • Lower belly pain or nausea not relieved by prescribed medicine
  • Extreme tiredness that interferes with normal activities
  • Ongoing loss of appetite or rapid weight loss (such as 5 pounds in one week)

Revised January 2012

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA