Adriamycin (Doxorubicin) Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy treatment
Adriamycin (Doxorubicin) Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer. Mark Harmel / Getty Images

Adriamycin is a chemotherapy drug, a type of anthracycline antibiotic that is an anti-tumor drug. It is made from the bacterium Streptomyces.

Use For Breast Cancer

Adriamycin can be used to treat early-stage or node-positive breast cancer, HER2-positive breast cancer, and metastatic disease. Adriamycin is sometimes combined with Cytoxan and/or 5-fluorouracil to make a cocktail of breast-cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs.

Other Uses for Adriamycin

This drug is also used to treat other cancers, including ovarian, bladder, lung, thyroid and gastric cancers, as well as neuroblastoma, lymphoma, leukemia, and Kaposi's sarcoma.

Also Known As

Adriamycin, Rubex, Doxil, doxorubicin and The Red Devil (informal term)

How Adriamycin Works

Adriamycin fights cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells. This drug gets inside the DNA of cancer cells and prevents cell replication by inhibiting protein synthesis. Adriamycin also forms oxygen free radicals, which can result in heart and circulatory damage.

How Adriamycin Is Given

This drug is given by injection during a chemotherapy infusion. If the dose of Adriamycin that you are being given is very thick, it may be given as a "push" injection, rather than through an intravenous drip. This red fluid drug will be delivered in a large plastic syringe, which will be attached to your catheter tubing, and your infusion nurse will slowly depress the plunger manually, to inject the Adriamycin into your vein.

Before Beginning Therapy

Because this drug can cause heart problems, you should have a MUGa scan, LVEF (left ventricular failure) test or heart health evaluation done before starting treatment. This baseline exam will be used to compare with your heart function during and after treatment. Other tests for kidney and liver function may also be needed.

Recommendations During Treatment

  • Use reliable contraception -- avoid a pregnancy
  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water, to flush your kidneys and bladder
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine -- these dry out your tissues
  • Don't take aspirin, because it thins your blood
  • Don't get vaccinations


  • Allergic reaction to adriamycin
  • May harm fetus, if you become pregnant during treatment
  • Possible future infertility
  • Low blood counts, greater danger of infections
  • In some cases, there is a risk of heart damage

Possible Side Effects

When to Call Your Doctor

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor:

  • Fever of 100.5F or higher
  • Pain or redness at your injection site
  • Extravasation (drug leaking into surrounding tissues)
  • Bloody urine or reddish sweat
  • Unusual bruises or persistent bleeding
  • Persistent cough, sore throat, pneumonia
  • Allergic symptoms: shortness of breath, swelling of feet or ankles, rash, swollen throat or tongue


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Doxorubicin Proposed PI Update. Final Approved Label - May 8, 2003. PDF document.

National Cancer Institute. Drug Information - Doxorubicin Hydrochloride. Last Updated: 05/22/2008.

Medline Plus. Drugs & Supplements. Doxorubicin. Last Reviewed - 08/01/2007.

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