Brand Names

Purinethol®, 6-MP (There may be other names for this medication.)

How is It Administered?

This medication is a tablet, taken by mouth. You should take it at the same time each day, on an empty stomach (either 1 hour before eating or 2 hours after eating).

Why am I Taking Mercaptopurine?

This drug is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

How Does it Work?

Cancers are diseases in which abnormal cells reproduce uncontrollably. Your chemo schedule is based upon:

  • your cancer type and how fast the cancer cells reproduce
  • the phase of the cell cycle when the chemo is most effective — the resting, growing, or reproduction phases

With these factors in mind, your doctors create a chemo schedule to give each medication when it will do the most damage to the cancer cells.

Mercaptopurine is in a class of drugs known as antimetabolites, specifically, it is a purine antagonist. These drugs interrupt the cell cycle. It is biologically similar to a nutrient that cancer cells need to grow. The cancer cells take in the mercaptopurine and it disrupts their growth and their ability to reproduce. If the cells are unable to divide, they die.

Many chemo medications identify and attack cancer cells because they reproduce quickly. Some cells in your body normally reproduce quickly and they are likely to be damaged/destroyed by chemo. These normal cells will eventually grow back and be healthy. During treatment, however, you may experience side effects from chemo’s effects on these cells.

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