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Last Modified: February 18, 2016
Classification: Antineoplastic Agent
This medication has toxic effects on the mitochondria in adrenal cortical cells, causing these cells to die. This also decreases the production of cortisol and alters metabolism of steroids. You may need to take a steroid (such as hydrocortisone) by mouth to make up for this loss. Your oncology team will monitor you for this side effect. The exact mechanism of action is unknown.
How to Take Mitotane
Mitotane comes as a tablet to take by mouth. It is usually taken three to four times a day. Take mitotane at around the same times every day. The pill should be swallowed whole with a glass of water; do not crush, chew or break. Mitotane should be taken with meals containing fat-rich foods such as milk, chocolate and oil.
Your care provider will determine your dose, which may change based on the levels in your blood and the severity of side effects you are experiencing. If you miss a dose, just take the next dose as scheduled. Do not take two doses to make up for a missed dose. You may be required to take a steroid while you are on mitotane. Mitotane will need to be temporarily discontinued if you experience shock or severe trauma and steroids will be given until your adrenal gland resumes functioning.
The blood levels of this medication can be affected by certain foods and medications, so they should be avoided. These include: anti-epileptics, rifabutin, rifampicin, griseofulvin, St. John’s wort, sunitinib and spironolactone, among others. This medication can affect the level in your blood of warfarin or other anticoagulants that are used to treat and prevent blood clots. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all medications and supplements you take.
Storage and Handling
Store your medication in the original, labeled container at room temperature and in a dry location (unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider or pharmacist). This medication should not be stored in a pillbox. Keep containers out of reach of children and pets.
If a caregiver prepares your dose for you, they should consider wearing gloves or pour the pills directly from their container into the cap, a small cup, or directly into your hand. They should avoid touching the pills. They should always wash their hands before and after giving you the medication. Pregnant or nursing women should not prepare the dose for you. Ask your oncology team where to return any unused medication for disposal. Do not flush down the toilet or throw in the trash.
Where do I get this medication?
Mitotane is available through retail and mail order pharmacies. Your oncology team will work with your prescription drug plan to identify an in-network pharmacy for distribution of this medication.
This medication may be covered under your prescription drug plan. Patient assistance may be available to qualifying individuals without prescription drug coverage. Co-pay cards, which reduce the patient co-pay responsibility for eligible commercially (non-government sponsored) insured patients, may also be available. Your care team can help you find these resources, if they are available.
Possible Side Effects of Mitotane
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of mitotane. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:
Nausea and/or Vomiting
Talk to your doctor or nurse so they can prescribe medications to help you manage nausea and vomiting. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms.
Call your doctor or nurse if you are unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours or if you feel lightheaded or dizzy at any time.
Your oncology team can recommend medications to relieve diarrhea. Also, try eating low-fiber, bland foods, such as white rice and boiled or baked chicken. Avoid raw fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals and seeds. Soluble fiber is found in some foods and absorbs fluid, which can help relieve diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber include: applesauce, bananas (ripe), canned fruit, orange sections, boiled potatoes, white rice, products made with white flour, oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, and farina. Drink 8-10 glasses on non-alcoholic, un-caffeinated fluid a day to prevent dehydration.
Decrease in Appetite
Nutrition is an important part of your care. Cancer treatment can affect your appetite and, in some cases, the side effects of treatment can make eating difficult. Ask your nurse about nutritional counseling services at your treatment center to help with food choices.
- Try to eat five or six small meals or snacks throughout the day, instead of 3 larger meals.
- If you are not eating enough, nutritional supplements may help.
- You may experience a metallic taste or find that food has no taste at all. You may dislike foods or beverages that you liked before receiving cancer treatment. These symptoms can last for several months or longer after treatment ends.
- Avoid any food that you think smells or tastes bad. If red meat is a problem, eat chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products and fish without a strong smell. Sometimes cold food has less of an odor.
- Add extra flavor to meat or fish by marinating it in sweet juices, sweet and sour sauce or dressings. Use seasonings like basil, oregano or rosemary to add flavor. Bacon, ham and onion can add flavor to vegetables.
Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)
White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.
Tips to preventing infection:
- Washing hands, both yours and your visitors, is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.
- Avoid large crowds and people who are sick (i.e.: those who have a cold, fever or cough or live with someone with these symptoms).
- When working in your yard, wear protective clothing including long pants and gloves.
- Do not handle pet waste.
- Keep all cuts or scratches clean.
- Shower or bath daily and perform frequent mouth care.
- Do not cut cuticles or ingrown nails. You may wear nail polish, but not fake nails.
- Ask your doctor or nurse before scheduling dental appointments or procedures.
- Ask your doctor or nurse before you, or someone you live with, has any vaccinations.
Fatigue is very common during cancer treatment and is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that is not usually relieved by rest. While on cancer treatment, and for a period after, you may need to adjust your schedule to manage fatigue. Plan times to rest during the day and conserve energy for more important activities. Exercise can help combat fatigue; a simple daily walk with a friend can help. Talk to your healthcare team for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.
This medication can cause such severe fatigue that it may impact your mental alertness, cause dizziness or sedation. Patients should talk to their provider about driving and tasks that require mental alertness.
Other Side Effects
Some less common side effects that have been reported include: skin rash or darkening, dizziness, blurred vision, flu-like symptoms, bladder irritation, prolonged bleeding, muscle weakness, anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and changes in blood pressure.
Prolonged use (greater than 2 years) of mitotane can lead to neurotoxic side effects including brain damage and functional impairment. The levels of mitotane in your blood will be closely monitored to prevent these problems and your neurological status will be closely monitored.
Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant or father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment and until mitotane is not detectable in your blood. Even if your menstrual cycle stops or you believe you are not producing sperm, you could still be fertile and conceive. You should consult with your healthcare team before breastfeeding while receiving this medication.