What Happens If You Stop Taking Hydroxyurea?

What Happens If You Stop Taking Hydroxyurea

Hydroxyurea is a medication mainly used to treat conditions like sickle cell anemia and certain types of cancer. However, sometimes we stop taking Hydroxyurea without proper medical advice, and that can actually lead to some health problems.

In this article, we explore the possible effects of suddenly stopping Hydroxyurea, its duration of use, and looking at how it can affect the treatment of conditions like sickle cell anemia and different types of cancers.

Hydroxyurea is also known as a cytotoxic agent. It works by slowing down the growth of cancer cells and abnormal red blood cells. It treats different types of leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer that affects the cells that produce your blood.

It also helps reduce pain crises and the need for blood transfusions in people with sickle cell anemia. In cancer treatment, Hydroxyurea interferes with the replication of DNA, thereby inhibiting the multiplication of cancer cells.

However, suddenly stopping Hydroxyurea could increase the risk of sickle cell crises or unchecked cancer cell growth. Remember, it’s important to talk to a professional before changing your medication routine.

How it works

Hydroxyurea works by disrupting DNA synthesis in cells. This prevents them from creating new copies of their DNA when they try to divide and replicate.

When DNA cannot be replicated, it prevents cell division, which hinders the growth of rapidly dividing cells like sickle and cancer cells.

In people with cancer, hydroxyurea takes the place of certain components that cancer cells require to grow. When cancer cells absorb hydroxyurea, it prevents them from growing further. Cancer cells grow faster than normal cells, so they are more susceptible to the effects of this medication.

This drug helps people with sickle cell disease by changing the shape of red blood cells. This reduces the occurrence of sickle cell crises.

Side Effects

Some common side effects that you can expect when taking it:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes: Skin may become darker, and patients may experience skin rashes or peeling.
  • Drowsiness or fatigue

If you experience any side effects that are given below, please report them to your doctor or healthcare professional promptly.

  • Signs of infection: fever, cough, sore throat, pain or difficulty urinating
  • Signs of decreased platelets or bleeding: bruising, red spots on the skin, black stools, blood in urine
  • Allergic reactions: skin rash, itching, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Signs of decreased red blood cells: weakness, tiredness, fainting, lightheadedness
  • Breathing problems
  • Low blood counts: decreased white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets; increased risk of infections and bleeding
  • Burning, redness, or pain at the site of radiation therapy.

How long can you take Hydroxyurea?

How long can you take Hydroxyurea

The duration of taking Hydroxyurea depends on the individual’s medical condition and how they respond to the treatment.

In the case of sickle cell anemia, treatment often requires a long-term approach. Many people with sickle cell disease have safely taken hydroxyurea for more than 20 to 25 years, even starting from a young age.

The duration of hydroxyurea treatment for cancer is typically until the cancer enters remission or for a maximum of 2-3 years.

However, long-term use of Hydroxyurea has been associated with an increased risk of developing secondary malignancies, especially skin cancer.

Always remember that taking Hydroxyurea should be based on a careful consideration of its benefits and risks. We highly recommend first consulting with a doctor before deciding whether to continue or discontinue this medication.

Must Read: 12 Foods You Must Avoid When Taking Hydroxyurea 

What happens if you stop taking Hydroxyurea?

If you suddenly stop taking Hydroxyurea or don’t take it at all. You might experience a lot of symptoms for the condition the medication was prescribed for.

People with sickle cell anemia may experience more pain crises or require blood transfusions. There cancer cells may grow faster or sickle cells may return to their sickle shape.

Similarly, patients who were using Hydroxyurea for cancer treatment could potentially observe an acceleration in cancer cell growth.

Hydroxyurea, like many other medications, must be discontinued in a gradual and controlled manner, under the supervision of a doctor. This is to give your body time to adjust and reduce any negative reactions that may occur from sudden withdrawal.

When should I stop taking hydroxyurea?

When to stop taking hydroxyurea is a decision that should always be made with your doctor. Stick to the treatment plan for at least a year so that your provider can find the right dosage for your condition.

If you’re facing side effects, it’s crucial not to abruptly stop taking the medicine. While some side effects might be uncomfortable or disconcerting, many tend to fade over time.

Before changing your medication routine, it’s crucial to talk to your doctor. They can guide you and adjust your dosage to minimize side effects without compromising the treatment’s effectiveness.

Strategies to manage side effects of Hydroxyurea

If you are on Hydroxyurea treatment, there are certain strategies that can be beneficial in managing its side effects:

  • Staying Hydrated: If you experience digestive system-related side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite, staying hydrated can help. It replaces lost fluids and eases nausea symptoms.
  • Balanced Diet: To manage the side effects of hydroxyurea, try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
  • Skin Care: To manage skin changes due to Hydroxyurea, remember to moisturize regularly and avoid sun exposure. Use sunscreen with SPF 30+ when outdoors.
  • Regular Check-ups: Regular check-ins with your healthcare provider help identify and address side effects immediately. They can adjust your dosage or recommend other medications to manage any side effects.
  • Psychological Support: Psycho-social support can help manage any emotional or mental side effects, like anxiety or depression, that may occur due to the disease or its treatment.


In conclusion, Hydroxyurea is a potent medical treatment for conditions like leukemia and sickle cell anemia. Despite its effectiveness, it’s essential to be aware of the potential side effects and the importance of adhering to the prescribed usage.

Sudden discontinuation can sometimes cause severe consequences, thus any changes to your dosage should always be made in consultation with your healthcare provider. Remember, responses to Hydroxyurea can vary for every person. So stay in touch with your doctor to make sure the treatment is working well for you and keeping you healthy.


Can hydroxyurea cause cancer?

Long-term use of Hydroxyurea, especially in high doses, may increase the risk of secondary cancers, particularly skin cancer. However, the benefits of managing conditions like leukemia and sickle cell anemia often outweigh this risk. The decision to use Hydroxyurea should always be made in consultation with a doctor.

Can hydroxyurea be stopped?

No, hydroxyurea should never be stopped abruptly or without consulting your doctor. Stopping it suddenly may cause severe consequences, like an acceleration in the growth of cancer cells or a return of sickle cells to their original shape.

What is the life expectancy of someone on hydroxyurea?

The life expectancy of someone on hydroxyurea can vary. For instance, people with sickle cell anemia who respond well to hydroxyurea often have a better quality of life and improved life expectancy. For patients with certain types of cancer, hydroxyurea can effectively control the disease, enhancing life expectancy.

Does hydroxyurea weaken the immune system?

Yes, Hydroxyurea can impact the immune system as it suppresses the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells, including white blood cells which are crucial for fighting infections. This can result in a weakened immune system which makes the patient more susceptible to infections.


National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Hydroxyurea. [Online] Available at:

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Hydroxyurea (Oral Route). [Online] Available at:

American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Hydroxyurea. [Online] Available at:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). How is sickle cell disease treated? [Online] Available at:


The information provided in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Don’t ignore professional medical advice or put off seeking it just because of something you read here. Although we aim to offer precise and current information, we do not guarantee its completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability for any purpose. Using the information in this document is at your own risk. We are not responsible for any losses or damages caused by our content.

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