Asparaginase (Generic Name)

Other Names: Elspar, Kidrolase

About This Drug

Asparaginase is a drug used to treat cancer. It is given intravenously (IV) or injected into a muscle.

Possible Side Effects (More Common) 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and/or hallucinations
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever and chills
  • Soreness of the mouth and throat. You may have red areas, white patches, and/or painful sores.
  • Mood changes. You may experience changes in your moods, including depression. Mood changes are common in patients with cancer.
  • Irritation of your pancreas (pancreatitis). You may have severe stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. Enzymes made by your pancreas may be elevated and will be checked as needed.
  • Increased blood sugar level. You may notice unusual thirst and frequent need to urinate.

Possible Side Effects (Less Common) 

  • Bone marrow depression. There may be a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may increase your risk for infection, fatigue, and bleeding.
  • Changes in kidney function. This drug may affect how your kidneys work. Your kidney function will be checked as needed. You may notice a decrease in your urine output.
  • Blood clotting problems (rare). You may notice that you bruise more easily or have unusual bleeding. Your blood work will be checked as needed.

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.

Pregnancy warning : It is not known if this drug may have harmful effects on an unborn child.  For this reason, be sure to speak with your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant while receiving this drug. 

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

  • 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. 
  • Mouth care is very important. Your mouth care should consist of gently brushing your teeth with a very soft toothbrush and rinsing your mouth with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after every meal and at bedtime. 
  • Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medication to help prevent or lessen nausea and vomiting.
  • Do not put anything on a rash, unless you ask your doctor or nurse. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry.
  • Be careful to prevent injury when you are cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you feel you need help with your mood.

Food and Drug Interactions

There are no known interactions of asparaginase with food. This drug may interact with other medication. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medication 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 may occur in some patients while the drug is being given. A skin test is usually done before the first dose of the drug, as well as when the drug is given after an interval of a week or more between doses. Signs of an allergic reaction are shortness of breath, rash, or itching, dizziness or light-headedness, or palpitations (feeling your heart beat rapidly). Tell your nurse immediately during the infusion if you are having any of these symptoms.

When to Notify the Doctor

Notify your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Uncontrolled nausea that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than three times in one day
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Hallucinations and sudden confusion
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty being awakened
  • Severe headache
  • Severe stomach pain with nausea and vomiting

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

  • Extreme drowsiness that interferes with normal activities
  • Dwelling of your feet or lower legs
  • Pain in mouth or throat that makes it difficult to eat or drink
  • Nausea that is not helped by prescribed medication
  • Frequent urination and unusual thirst
  • Tremors (twitches) in your arms or hands
  • Difficulty walking or changes in the way you walk
  • Clumsiness buttoning clothing, opening jars, or doing other routine activities
  • Low back or side pain
  • Persistent loss of appetite or rapid weight loss (such as 5 pounds in one week)
  • Extreme fatigue that interferes with normal activities
  • Rash and/or itching
  • Decrease in your urine output

Revised January 2012

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