The mechanism of action of altretamine is not known. However, it is thought that it may inhibit DNA and RNA synthesis.
Alretamine is administered orally. Doses for the drug may be different depending on the protocol that is used by the physician. Some example dosing regimens are: 4 to 12 mg per kg in three to four divided doses for 21 to 90 days; 240 to 320 mg per square meter of body surface area in three to four divided doses for 21 days, repeated every six weeks; 260 mg per square meter of body surface area per day for 14 to 21 days of a 28 days cycle in four divided doses; or 150 mg per square meter of body surface area in three to four divided doses for 14 days of a 28 day cycle. The dose of altretamine may be decreased if the patient has intolerable stomach side effects, low blood count of cells that fight infection (white blood cells) or cells that prevent bleeding (platelets), or if the patient has progressive toxicity affecting the nerves of the brain and body.
Caution is usually taken in prescribing altretamine to patients with decreased kidney or liver function or damage to nerves due to previous chemotherapy. Careful monitoring of nerve, kidney, and liver function is required for these patients.
Pregnant women should be warned before taking this drug, as it may cause permanent harm to the fetus. Women who are of childbearing age should apply contraceptive methods to avoid pregnancy until they have discontinued drug use. Altretamine may also affect fertility. Additionally, although it is not known whether this drug is excreted in the breast milk, nursing mothers are cautioned not to breast feed while being treated with altretamine.
Nausea and vomiting may gradually occur as patients receive continuous high dose of altretamine. In most instances, antiemetics can help control these side effects. However, some patients may experience severe nausea and vomiting that requires either reducing the dose or stopping treatment with altretamine. Other common side effects include loss of appetite (anorexia) and diarrhea. Patients may also experience nerve toxicity, which is described as numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the fingers and toes. Patients can also have difficulty walking because of these sensation changes. Patients may also commonly experience: thrombocytopenia, a decrease of the platelet cells responsible for blood clotting; anemia, a decrease of the red blood cells responsible for oxygen transport to tissues and organs; and leukopenia, a decrease of the white blood cells responsible for fighting infections. Less common side effects include seizures, depression, dizziness, stomach cramps, liver toxicity, rash, and hair loss (alopecia).
Persons taking altretamine and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) may experience severe hypotension (low blood pressure) when standing up. Additionally, the drug cimetidine may increase the toxicity of altretamine. Prior to starting any over-the-counter medications, herbal medications, or new medications, patients should consult with their physician, nurse, or pharmacist to ensure that there are no potential drug interactions.
Michael Zuck, Ph.D.
—Agents used to alleviate nausea and vomiting, used during and sometimes following treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
—Symptoms resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves, that is, nerves not found in the spinal cord or brain.