Injecting the cancer medicine cytarabine yourself

This guide gives you useful instructions and information about injecting the cancer medicine cytarabine yourself. It covers:

The aim of this guide is to help you give yourself the medicine at home. It is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or nurse.

A nurse has already shown you how to give yourself an injection under the skin (a subcutaneous injection). You and the nurse have agreed that:

  • you can inject the medicine yourself
  • you feel comfortable doing this

You have a phone appointment with a nurse on the day that you first need to inject cytarabine. They check that you have successfully given yourself the injection.

If you have any questions not covered in this guide or are not sure how to inject cytarabine, please contact your hospital team. They can support and help you.

About the medicine cytarabine

Cytarabine, which has the brand name cytosine arabinoside or Ara-C, is used to treat:

  • acute leukaemias (cancers of the blood)
  • some lymphomas (cancers of the lymph glands, which help the body to fight infection)

How the medicine works

Cytarabine is a type of chemotherapy medicine. It kills cancer cells by stopping them from making and repairing the genetic material (DNA) that they need to grow and multiply.

Side effects of cytarabine

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist explains the common side effects of cytarabine treatment.

Contact us immediately if:

  • your temperature is very high, or you feel hot, shivery or shaky
  • you suddenly feel unwell, even if your temperature is normal
  • you have a sore throat, cough or diarrhoea, or need to pee a lot

You can call our acute oncology service on 020 7188 3754 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

If you get side effects or have any concerns that are not addressed in this guide, please contact your hospital.

Tips for using cytarabine safely

Here is a list of general tips for how to use cytarabine safely.


  • take it in turns to inject into the left and right sides of your tummy (abdomen) or outer left and right thigh
  • choose a different area of skin for each injection
  • put your used syringe and needle in the yellow sharps bin with a purple lid each time that you inject and never leave them lying around
  • give yourself the injection at about the same time each morning (and every afternoon if you have 2 injections a day)
  • contact the chemotherapy day unit if you are not sure how to inject or would like more information
  • store your medicine at room temperature between 15 and 25C and in a safe place out of the reach of children and pets


Resource number: 5342/VER1
Last reviewed: February 2023
Next review due: February 2026

A list of sources is available on request.

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any questions or equipment issues, or need information in a different format, please contact the chemotherapy day unit.

Phone: 020 7188 6452 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Email: [email protected]

We aim to respond to emails within 1 working day.

Out of hours contact

Call the acute oncology service (AOS) on 020 7188 3754 (24 hours a day)

If you get any side effects from your treatment or feel unwell, please call the acute oncology service at any time.

Guy’s Cancer at Queen Mary’s Hospital

Please contact the Guy’s and St Thomas’ chemotherapy day unit if you have any questions or the acute oncology service out of hours.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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