Drugs Home > Etoposide

How Does It Work?

Etoposide works by interfering with the action of an enzyme known as topoisomerase II. Topoisomerase II helps relax DNA that has been tangled or overwound, which can happen when DNA is unwinding so it can duplicate (DNA duplication is necessary for cells to divide). The enzyme relaxes tightly bound DNA by cutting the DNA strands to relieve the tension and then putting the strands back together.
Etoposide binds to topoisomerase II and prevents the enzyme from relaxing DNA. As a result, the DNA strands break. This prevents cells from dividing, which stops the growth of cancer cells.

When and How to Take This Medication

Some general considerations to keep in mind during treatment with etoposide include the following:
  • This medication comes in the form of a capsule or an injection. The capsule is taken by mouth. The injection is given slowly through a needle inserted into a vein (an intravenous, or IV, infusion).
  • You will receive the intravenous infusion in a medical setting, such as a hospital or clinic, where a trained healthcare provider can closely monitor you.
  • If you are receiving this medication as an injection, it will take at least 30 to 60 minutes to receive your infusion.
  • Etoposide capsules can be taken with or without food. Try taking them with food if they seem to bother your stomach.
  • For the medication to work properly, it must be used as prescribed. Although this medicine works best if taken on schedule, you may need to miss a dose if you experience serious side effects.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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