Cancer Home > What Is Pentostatin Used For?

Pentostatin is a type of chemotherapy treatment designed to slow down the progression of hairy cell leukemia, a rare type of cancer that affects the blood cells. This drug works by slowing down the growth of cancer cells by interfering with how DNA replicates. A healthcare provider may also recommend pentostatin for off-label uses, such as treating cutaneous T-cell lymphoma or certain other types of leukemia.

An Overview of Uses for Pentostatin

Pentostatin (Nipent®) is a prescription medication approved to treat hairy cell leukemia in adults. Hairy cell leukemia is an uncommon type of cancer that affects a certain type of white blood cell known as B-cells. These blood cells help the body fight infections.
In hairy cell leukemia, the bone marrow makes too many abnormal B-cells. These abnormal cells have hair-like projections that can be observed under a microscope. This is what gives the condition its name.
The abnormal B-cells in hairy cell leukemia, also called leukemia cells, do not function properly. As they increase in number, they may crowd out normal, healthy blood cells. As a result, the number of normal and healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets decreases. This can cause infections, anemia, and bleeding problems. In addition, some of the leukemia cells may collect in the spleen and liver and cause these organs to swell.
Hairy cell leukemia is more likely to occur in men than women, and most often occurs in middle or older age. It is considered a chronic leukemia, which means it progresses slowly. In some cases, it may not progress at all.
Treatment for hairy cell leukemia may vary, and people with this disease are not always treated. In some cases, treatment may not be needed if the blood cell counts are not too low and a person is not experiencing symptoms. Instead, watchful waiting will be used. Watchful waiting involves closely monitoring a person's condition, without using any forms of treatment, until symptoms appear or change.
Once blood cell counts become too low or symptoms appear, treatment may include chemotherapy, surgery, or biologic therapy (see Hairy Cell Leukemia Treatment for more information).
Pentostatin is a type of chemotherapy medication. It is specifically approved as a single agent for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, which means it is used alone and not in combination with other chemotherapy medicines. The drug is used when hairy cell leukemia is active, which means there are symptoms or significantly low blood cell counts.
Pentostatin can be used as the first medication to treat hairy cell leukemia, or it can be used to treat hairy cell leukemia that is resistant to a type of treatment known as interferon-alpha, such as interferon alfa-2b (Intron® A).
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Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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