Adriamycin: "The Red Devil"

Adriamycin: “The Red Devil” 


Adriamycin, doxorubicin, or “the Red Devil,” is a common chemotherapy medication used to treat various types of cancers and other issues. It is commonly used in early-stage breast cancers, along with cancers of the bladder, kidneys, ovaries, thyroid, stomach, lungs, nerve tissues, bone, joints, and other soft tissues. It is also regularly used to treat leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma. While Adriamycin is generally safe to use to treat these issues, there can be a number of side effects that occur, and certain patients may not qualify for use.  

This medication is referenced as “the Red Devil” due to it’s red tone, and it’s quick and sometimes long lasting side effects.  


Before beginning this chemotherapy regimen, your doctor will discuss your medical history and any other issues you may be having. Patients who are allergic to the medication, or related medications (like daunorubicin, epirubicin, idarubicin, or mitoxantrone) or if you have any of these issues: 

  • Severe heart problems 
  • Recent heart attack 
  • Severe liver disease 
  • Very low blood cell counts caused by chemotherapy with past treatments 

Be sure to speak up if you have ever been diagnosed with or treated for: 

  • Liver disease 
  • Heart disease 
  • Heart failure 
  • Or had any radiation treatments to your chest 

If you have used cancer medications in the past, alert your doctor of this news as well. Using this medication does increase your risk of developing a bone marrow disease or other types of leukemia later in life.  

Patients beginning Adriamycin will be tested for pregnancy, and all users- both male and female- should use birth control while on this treatment to prevent spreading damaged cells to your partner. This medication may also trigger early menopause and can be passed to an infant in breastmilk.  

How Adriamycin is Administered 

Adriamycin can be administered via IV drip, or via injection. With IV administration, typically the IV would run for a few hours at a time. Injections are often slow pushed in to the vein, or directly in to the cancerous mass, if accessible.  


Side Effects of Adriamycin 

Side effects of “the Red Devil” can be bothersome and should be reported to your doctor when you experience them. Let your doctor know as soon as possible if you are dealing with any of these side effects: 

  • Missed menstrual periods 
  • Signs of heart problems- rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath (even with mild exertion), feeling very weak or tired, swelling in your ankles or feet 
  • Low white blood cell counts- fever, painful mouth sores, swollen gums, skin sores, cold or flu-like symptoms, or trouble breathing 
  • Easy bruising (vagina, rectum, nose, mouth) or purple or red pinpoint spots underneath your skin 
  • Pain, blisters, or skin sores where injection was given 
  • Sexual side effects: loss of libido, vaginal atrophy, erectile dysfunction or severely dry genital skin 

Other side effects that may occur are dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, severe sweating, headaches, chest tightness, back pain, trouble breathing, or swelling in your face or around your body. Hair loss also occurs in various levels while taking this medication.  

Adriamycin also turns urine a reddish-orange color. This is normal and should cause no issue. Be careful with the staining of your underwear.  

There are other side effects that may occur with Adriamycin. Always check in with your medical care team with the onset of any new side effects.  

Signs of Allergic Reaction with Adriamycin 

If you experience these issues, get emergency medical help: 

  • Hives 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat 


When on chemotherapy of any kind, be sure to follow all of your doctors’ orders. Do not begin new medications or therapies without checking in on safety with your doctor or pharmacist.  



Resources Used: 

Reclaiming Intimacy 

Cancer Treatment Centers of America 




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