Clinical pharmacology of 5-fluorouracil

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1989 Apr;16(4):215-37. doi: 10.2165/00003088-198916040-00002.


5-Fluorouracil, first introduced as a rationally synthesized anticancer agent 30 years ago, continues to be widely used in the management of several common malignancies including cancer of the colon, breast and skin. This drug, an analogue of the naturally occurring pyrimidine uracil, is metabolised via the same metabolic pathways as uracil. Although several potential sites of antitumour activity have been identified, the precise mechanism of action and the extent to which each of these sites contributes to tumour or host cell toxicity remains unclear. Several assay methods are available to quantify 5-fluorouracil in serum, plasma and other biological fluids. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that plasma drug concentrations can predict antitumour effect or host cell toxicity. The recent development of clinically useful pharmacodynamic assays provides an attractive alternative to plasma drug concentrations, since these assays allow the detection of active metabolites of 5-fluorouracil in biopsied tumour or normal tissue. 5-Fluorouracil is poorly absorbed after oral administration, with erratic bioavailability. The parenteral preparation is the major dosage form, used intravenously (bolus or continuous infusion). Recently, studies have demonstrated the pharmacokinetic rationale and clinical feasibility of hepatic arterial infusion and intraperitoneal administration of 5-fluorouracil. In addition, 5-fluorouracil continues to be used in topical preparations for the treatment of malignant skin cancers. Following parenteral administration of 5-fluorouracil, there is rapid distribution of the drug and rapid elimination with an apparent terminal half-life of approximately 8 to 20 minutes. The rapid elimination is primarily due to swift catabolism of the liver. As with all drugs, caution should be used in administering 5-fluorouracil in various pathophysiological states. In general, however, there are no set recommendations for dose adjustment in the presence of renal or hepatic dysfunction. Drug interactions continue to be described with other antineoplastic drugs, as well as with other classes of agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacokinetics
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology*
  • Fluorouracil / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Fluorouracil