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Dactinomycin (Monograph)

Brand name: Cosmegen
Drug class: Antineoplastic Agents
VA class: AN200
CAS number: 50-76-0


  • Powder and solution are highly toxic (e.g., corrosive, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic). (See Toxicity and Adequate Patient Monitoring under Cautions.)

  • Handle and administer with care; avoid inhalation of dust or vapors and contact with skin or mucous membranes, especially the eyes. (See IV Administration under Dosage and Administration.)

  • Avoid exposure during pregnancy. (See Fetal/Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality under Cautions.)

  • Highly corrosive to soft tissue; severe damage to soft tissues if extravasation occurs. Contracture of the arms has been reported. (See Local Effects under Cautions.)

  • Administer only under the supervision of a qualified clinician experienced in the use of cancer chemotherapeutic agents.


Antineoplastic agent; an actinomycin antibiotic produced by Streptomyces parvullus.

Uses for Dactinomycin

Wilms’ Tumor

In children with Wilms’ tumor, used in combination regimens (e.g., with vincristine with or without doxorubicin) as an adjunct to surgery with or without radiation therapy. The best combination or sequential therapy to achieve maximum response and duration of survival has not been established and comparative efficacy is continually being evaluated.

Generally should not be administered concomitantly with radiation therapy in the treatment of Wilms’ tumor. (See Toxicity Potentiation with Concomitant Radiation Therapy under Cautions.)


Component of various chemotherapeutic regimens as an adjunct to surgery with or without radiation therapy; however, the best combination or sequential therapy to achieve maximum response and duration of survival has not been established and comparative efficacy is continually being evaluated.

Ewing’s Sarcoma

Has been used in combination chemotherapy for treatment of Ewing’s sarcoma; however, other regimens currently are preferred.

Trophoblastic Neoplasms

Treatment (alone or as a component of various chemotherapeutic regimens) of trophoblastic neoplasms (choriocarcinoma, chorioadenoma destruens) in women.

Dactinomycin alone is generally reserved for patients whose tumors develop resistance or do not respond to methotrexate or in patients with impaired hepatic or renal function with increased risk of methotrexate toxicity.

Combination therapy with methotrexate and cyclophosphamide (MAC regimen) has been used for treatment of metastatic gestational trophoblastic tumors that are refractory to single-drug therapy.

Combination therapy with etoposide, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, and vincristine (EMA-CO) is commonly used in patients with poor-prognosis metastatic gestational trophoblastic tumors.

Testicular Cancer

Used in combination with vinblastine, bleomycin, cyclophosphamide, and cisplatin (VAB-6) for the treatment of advanced nonseminomatous testicular carcinoma. The best combination or sequential therapy has not been established and comparative efficacy is continually being evaluated.

Solid Tumors

Used alone or in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents by regional isolation perfusion as an adjunct to surgery or as palliative therapy alone in the treatment of locally recurrent or locoregional solid tumors (sarcomas, carcinomas, and adenocarcinomas).

Ovarian Germ Cell Tumors

Component of alternative chemotherapeutic regimens for ovarian germ cell tumors [off-label].

Dactinomycin Dosage and Administration



IV Administration

For solution and drug compatibility information, see Compatibility under Stability.

Administer by IV infusion (preferred) or IV injection. May also be adminstered by regional isolation perfusion.

Do not administer IM, sub-Q, or orally.

Avoid extravasation; extremely irritating to tissues. Pain and burning or stinging sensation during IV administration may be a symptom, but extravasation may occur without these symptoms and even when blood returns well on aspiration of the infusion needle. If manifestations of extravasation occur, immediately stop administration and restart at another site; apply ice intermittently to affected area for 15 minutes 4 times daily for 3 days. Because of the progressive nature of extravasation reactions, close observation and plastic surgery consultation recommended. Blistering, ulceration, and/or persistent pain are indications for wide excision surgery, followed by split-thickness skin grafting. (See Local Effects under Cautions.)

Prepare and handle cautiously (by trained nonpregnant personnel); use protective equipment (e.g., latex gloves, protective eyewear) and wash hands after removal of latex gloves. Avoid exposure by inhalation or by direct contact of the skin or mucous membranes. If drug powder or solution comes in contact with skin or mucosa, immediately irrigate affected area with water for ≥15 minutes; flush affected eye(s) with water or saline for ≥15 minutes and obtain prompt ophthalmologic consultation. Remove contaminated clothing and shoes; destroy clothing and and thoroughly clean shoes before reuse. (See Toxicity and Adequate Patient Monitoring under Cautions.)

Administer desired dose directly into any suitable vein or preferably into tubing or sidearm of a freely flowing IV infusion to reduce the risk of severe local reactions. (See Local Effects under Cautions.)

Following injection, flush vein with the running IV solution for 2–5 minutes and/or inject 5–10 mL of IV solution into sidearm to flush any remaining drug from the tubing.

For direct IV injection, withdraw dose from the vial with one sterile needle and use another sterile needle for injection into vein.

Do not use an inline cellulose ester membrane filter during administration.


Use strict aseptic technique since drug product contains no preservative.

Reconstitute vial containing 500 mcg of dactinomycin powder with 1.1 mL of sterile water for injection without preservatives, to provide a solution containing 500 mcg/mL.

Do not use diluents with preservatives (benzyl alcohol or parabens) which may cause precipitation.


Reconstituted solution may be added to IV infusions of 0.5% dextrose or 0.9% sodium chloride injection.

Rate of Administration

For direct IV injection, administer desired dose over a few minutes directly into any suitable vein.

Regional Isolation Perfusion

Techniques for administration by regional isolation perfusion may vary; consult specialized references.

Administration Risks

Possible systemic and local adverse effects associated with drug that escapes into systemic circulation (e.g., myelosuppression, increased susceptibility to infection, impaired wound healing, ulceration of GI mucosa, absorption of toxic products accompanying extensive tumor destruction, edema of extremity, soft tissue damage, venous thrombosis). (See Major Toxicities under Cautions.)


Calculate dosage carefully before administration of each dose.

Base dosage on the clinical and hematologic response, patient tolerance, and other chemotherapy or irradiation being used.

Base dosage on body surface area in obese or edematous patients.

Consult published protocols for dosages in combination regimens and method and sequence of administration.

Pediatric Patients

Wilms’ Tumor

Children >6 months of age: 15 mcg/kg daily for 5 days administered in various combinations and schedules with other chemotherapeutic agents.


Children >6 months of age: 15 mcg/kg daily for 5 days administered in various combinations and schedules with other chemotherapeutic agents.

Ewing’s Sarcoma

Children >6 months of age: 15 mcg/kg daily for 5 days administered in various combinations and schedules with other chemotherapeutic agents.


Trophoblastic Neoplasms

12 mcg/kg daily for 5 days.

Combination Therapy

500 mcg on days 1 and 2 as part of a combination regimen with etoposide, methotrexate, folinic acid, vincristine, cyclophosphamide, and cisplatin.

Testicular Cancer

1000 mcg/m2 on day 1 as part of a combination regimen with cyclophosphamide, bleomycin, vinblastine, and cisplatin.

Solid Tumors
IV (Regional Isolation Perfusion)

Dosage by regional isolation perfusion may vary; consult specialized references.

Pelvis or lower extremity: Usual dose is 50 mcg/kg.

Upper extremity: Usual dose is 35 mcg/kg.

Consider dosage reduction in obese patients or those who have received prior chemotherapy or irradiation.

Prescribing Limits

Pediatric Patients


Maximum 15 mcg/kg daily or 400–600 mcg/m2 IV daily for 5 days for each 2-week course of therapy.



Maximum 15 mcg/kg daily or 400–600 mcg/m2 IV daily for 5 days for each 2-week course.

Special Populations

Hepatic Impairment

No specific dosage recommendations at this time.

Renal Impairment

No specific dosage recommendations at this time.

Geriatric Patients

Start at lower end of dosage range because of age-related decreases in hepatic, renal, or cardiac function and concomitant disease and drug therapy.

Cautions for Dactinomycin




Carcinogenic Effects

Secondary malignancies (e.g., leukemias) reported in patients receiving dactinomycin in combination with radiation therapy. Long-term observation for occurrence of secondary malignancy is necessary in patients receiving combined modality treatment for cancer.

Fetal/Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality

May cause fetal harm; teratogenicity and embryotoxicity demonstrated in animals. Avoid pregnancy during therapy. If used during pregnancy or if patient becomes pregnant, apprise of potential fetal hazard.


Do not administer at or near the time of infection with chickenpox or herpes zoster. Risk of severe and possibly fatal generalized disease.

Concurrent administration of live virus vaccines not recommended.

Sensitivity Reactions

Hypersensitivity Reactions

Possible serious hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Major Toxicities

Hematologic Effects

Risk of dose-limiting myelosuppression, manifested primarily by leukopenia and thrombocytopenia; anemia, pancytopenia, reticulopenia, agranulocytosis, and aplastic anemia also may occur.

Leukocyte and platelet nadirs generally occur 14–21 days following completion of a course of therapy. Leukocyte and platelet counts usually return to normal levels within 21–25 days.

Monitor hematologic function frequently. If severe myelosuppression develops, discontinue therapy until blood counts return to an acceptable level; administer supportive therapy, anti-infectives for complicating infections, and blood product transfusions as indicated.

Use with extreme caution in patients with impaired bone marrow function.

GI Effects

Nausea and vomiting; generally occur within hours of administration and last up to 24 hours. Antiemetics may be effective in preventing or treating nausea and vomiting.

Risk of stomatitis or diarrhea; if stomatitis or diarrhea develops, discontinue therapy until symptoms resolve.

Hepatic Effects

Potentially fatal hepatic failure and hepatic veno-occlusive disease reported. Veno-occlusive disease may be associated with intravascular clotting disorder and multiorgan failure and may be fatal, particularly in children <4 years of age.

Abnormal liver function tests, ascites, hepatomegaly, and hepatitis reported.

Local Effects

Extravasation may produce severe local tissue damage, necrosis, cellulitis, phlebitis, and inflammation; contracture of the arms reported. Follow precautions to avoid extravasation. (See IV Administration under Dosage and Administration.)

Epidermolysis, erythema, and edema, sometimes severe, reported with regional limb perfusion.

General Precautions

Toxicity and Adequate Patient Monitoring

Highly toxic drug with a low therapeutic index; therapeutic response is not likely to occur without some evidence of toxicity. Handle and administer cautiously; administer only under the supervision of qualified clinician experienced in the use of cancer chemotherapy agents. (See IV Administration under Dosage and Administration.)

Closely observe patient and frequently assess bone marrow, hepatic, and renal function.

Toxicity Potentiation with Concomitant Radiation Therapy

Appears to potentiate effects of radiation therapy. Severe reactions possible if high doses of both dactinomycin and radiation are used or if patient is especially sensitive to such combination therapy.

Increased incidence of GI toxicity (e.g., severe oropharyngeal mucositis) and myelosuppression reported.

Erythema at the site of irradiation may occur early in normal skin and buccal and pharyngeal mucosa and may be followed rapidly by hyperpigmentation and/or edema, desquamation, vesiculation, and rarely necrosis.

Possible reactivation of radiation effects (e.g., erythema) in previously irradiated tissues.

Hepatomegaly, elevated serum AST concentrations, and ascites reported in the first 2 months after radiation therapy in patients with right-sided Wilms’ tumor; administer dactinomycin with particular caution in the first 2 months after radiation therapy. Do not administer concomitantly with radiation therapy for treatment of Wilms’ tumor unless benefit outweighs risk.

Specific Populations


Category D. (See Fetal/Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality under Cautions.)


Not known whether dactinomycin is distributed into human milk. Discontinue nursing or the drug.

Pediatric Use

Increased incidence of adverse effects in infants; use only in infants older than 6–12 months of age.

Increased incidence of fatal veno-occlusive disease in children <4 years of age. (See Hepatic Effects under Cautions.)

Geriatric Use

Insufficient experience in patients ≥65 years of age to determine whether geriatric patients respond differently than younger adults; consider the greater frequency of decreased hepatic, renal, and/or cardiac function and of concomitant disease and drug therapy observed in the elderly.

Possible increased incidence of myelosuppression compared with younger adults.

Common Adverse Effects

With IV therapy, myelosuppression, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain, diarrhea, GI ulceration, dysphagia, stomatitis, alopecia, rash, malaise, fatigue, lethargy, liver function test abnormalities, hepatitis, growth retardation, fever, infection, myalgia.

With regional isolation perfusion, edema of involved extremity, regional soft tissue damage, myelosuppression, infection, impaired wound healing.

Drug Interactions

No formal drug interaction studies to date.

Specific Drugs, Therapies, and Laboratory Tests




Antibacterial drug concentration bioassay

Possible intereferance with bioassay

Antineoplastic agents

Possible potentiation of toxicity

Reduced dactinomycin dosage may be necessary if other chemotherapy is used concomitantly with or prior to dactinomycin

Radiation therapy

Possible potentiation of GI and hematologic toxicity and radiation effects

Severe reactions possible; reduced dactinomycin dosage may be necessary if radiation therapy is used concomitantly with or prior to dactinomycin

Vaccines, live

Potentially hazaradous in immunosuppresed patients, including those undergoing cytotoxic chemotherapy

Concomitant administration not recommended

Dactinomycin Pharmacokinetics



Poorly absorbed from the GI tract.



Rapidly distributed into tissues, with highest concentrations in bone marrow and nucleated cells (i.e., granulocytes, lymphocytes). Does not cross the blood-brain barrier.

Appears to cross placenta; not known whether distributed into milk.



Minimally metabolized.

Elimination Route

Excreted in urine and feces; excreted in urine primarily as unchanged drug.


Biphasic; terminal half-life is approximately 36 hours.




Powder for Injection

25°C (may be exposed to 15–30°C). Protect from light and humidity; discard any unused portion.



Manufacturer states that dactinomycin should not be mixed with diluents containing preservatives (benzyl alcohol or parabens); precipitation reported.

Solution CompatibilityHID


Dextrose 5% in water

Drug Compatibility
Y-Site CompatibilityHID


Allopurinol sodium



Cefepime HCl

Etoposide phosphate

Fludarabine phosphate

Gemcitabine HCl

Granisetron HCl

Melphalan HCl

Ondansetron HCl




Vinorelbine tartrate




Advice to Patients


Excipients in commercially available drug preparations may have clinically important effects in some individuals; consult specific product labeling for details.

Please refer to the ASHP Drug Shortages Resource Center for information on shortages of one or more of these preparations.



Dosage Forms


Brand Names



For injection

500 mcg

Cosmegen (with mannitol 20 mg)


AHFS DI Essentials™. © Copyright 2024, Selected Revisions April 1, 2007. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc., 4500 East-West Highway, Suite 900, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.

† Off-label: Use is not currently included in the labeling approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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