Purinethol is similar in structure to purines, which are natural substances that help make up the structure of DNA. Cells incorporate Purinethol into their structure, where the drug interferes with certain reactions that are important for DNA to replicate. Because DNA replication is necessary for cells to divide, Purinethol slows down the growth of cancer cells, and causes the cancer cells to die.
This medicine is approved for use in children. When treating ALL in children, Purinethol is generally more effective when taken in combination with other medicines, such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex®, Trexall®).
Because Purinethol has not been adequately studied in older adults, it is unknown if they respond to, or tolerate, the medicine any differently than younger age groups. In general, older adults may be more sensitive to the side effects of this medicine and should, therefore, be started on lower doses.
On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend this medicine for treating something other than the condition discussed in this article. This is called an "off-label" use. Possible off-label uses for Purinethol include the treatment of the following conditions:
- Acute myelogenous leukemia
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
According to the manufacturer of Purinethol, this medication is not effective against acute myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphatic leukemia, lymphomas (such as Hodgkin's disease), or solid tumors.