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Zithromax, Zmax (azithromycin): FDA Warning - Increased Risk of Cancer Relapse With Long-Term Use After Donor Stem Cell Transplant

Audience: Patient, Health Professional, Oncology

ISSUE: The antibiotic Zithromax, Zmax (azithromycin) should not be given long-term to prevent a certain inflammatory lung condition in patients with cancers of the blood or lymph nodes who undergo a donor stem cell transplant. Results of a clinical trial found an increased rate of relapse in cancers affecting the blood and lymph nodes, including death, in these patients. We are reviewing additional data and will communicate our conclusions and recommendations when our review is complete.

BACKGROUND: The serious lung condition for which long-term azithromycin was being studied called bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome is caused by inflammation and scarring in the airways of the lungs, resulting in severe shortness of breath and dry cough. Cancer patients who undergo stem cell transplants from donors are at risk for bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome. The manufacturer of brand name azithromycin is providing a Dear Healthcare Provider letter on this safety issue to health care professionals who care for patients undergoing donor stem cell transplants.

Azithromycin is not approved for preventing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome. It is an FDA-approved antibiotic used to treat many types of infections affecting the lungs, sinuses, skin, and other parts of the body. The drug has been used for more than 26 years. It is sold under the brand names Zithromax and Zmax and as generics by many different drug companies. It works by stopping the growth of bacteria that can cause infections.

RECOMMENDATION: Health care professionals should not prescribe long-term azithromycin for prophylaxis of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome to patients who undergo donor stem cell transplants because of the increased potential for cancer relapse and death.

Patients who have had a stem cell transplant should not stop taking azithromycin without first consulting with your health care professional. Doing so could be harmful without your health care professional’s direct supervision. Talk with them if you have any questions or concerns about taking this medicine.

Health care professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

  • Complete and submit the report Online: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report

  • Download form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the pre-addressed form, or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178

[08/03/2018 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA]
[08/2018 - Health-care Provider Letter - Pfizer]

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