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Continuing Education Activity

Mesna is a medication used in the management and treatment of hemorrhagic cystitis associated with chemotherapy. This activity outlines the indications, action, and contraindications for mesna as a valuable agent in conjunction with the ifosfamide or cyclophosphamide administration. In addition, this activity will highlight the mechanism of action, adverse event profile, and other key factors pertinent for interprofessional team members in the care of patients receiving chemotherapy at risk for hemorrhagic cystitis.


  • Describe the mechanism of action of mesna in preventing hemorrhagic cystitis.
  • Summarize the adverse effects associated with mesna administration.
  • Outline various forms of administration of mesna.
  • Review interprofessional team strategies for improving care coordination and communication to advance mesna and improve outcomes.


FDA-approved Indication

  • Mesna is used as a prophylactic medication in reducing the incidence of ifosfamide and cyclophosphamide-induced hemorrhagic cystitis.[1]

Non-FDA-approved Indications

  • Treatment of chemically-assisted dissection of recurrent and residual cholesteatoma[2]
  • Reduction of the incidence of BK viruria following post-transplantation cyclophosphamide[3]
  • Inhibition of propylene glycol induced cholesteatoma formation[4]
  • Treatment of pain following failed back surgery syndrome via epidural injection[5]
  • Treatment of chronic cholesteatomatous otitis media in children[6]

Mechanism of Action

Mesna (sodium 2-mercaptoethane sulfonate) is a detoxifying agent used to prevent hemorrhagic cystitis in patients receiving chemotherapy with either high-dose cyclophosphamide or ifosfamide. Mesna initially becomes inactivated to dimesna (mensa disulfide) in the bloodstream; however, once it is filtered through the kidneys and excreted into the bladder, it is reactivated. As reactivated mesna concentrates in the bladder, mesna detoxifies acrolein, a urotoxic breakdown product of ifosfamide and cyclophosphamide that accumulates in the bladder. Mesna acts as a sulfhydryl donor that forms a conjugate bond with acrolein and inactivates it, preventing hemorrhagic cystitis or bleeding due to bladder irritation.[7]

There is some evidence to suggest that this might also occur through the inhibition of lactoperoxidase (LPO). Lactoperoxidase utilizes hydrogen peroxide (HO) and thiocyanate (SCN) to produce hypothiocyanous acid (HOSCN). Mesna's sulfhydryl group binds stably to LPO within the SCN binding site and thus inhibits function resulting in reduction and regulation of local inflammatory effects.[8]


Mesna is available in 100 mg/ml injection, which can be administered as an injection, as an IV infusion. It is also available as a 400 mg oral tablet.

Mesna is usually first administered as an injection concurrently with cyclophosphamide or ifosfamide chemotherapy. If the physician deems that it is still necessary after the initial dosage, an oral form (400 mg tablet) is usually administered 2 to 6 hours following subsequent therapy. Due to the strong adverse taste of oral mesna tablets, the administration of the tablet with juice or food is usually the recommendation due to the sulfur odor/taste. Patients are advised to drink at least 4 cups of liquid daily while taking mesna.[9]

Studies have also shown mesna administration as a topical agent for chemically assisted dissection of recurrent and residual cholesteatoma, most commonly in pediatric patients.[10] 

Another study showed that epidural injection of mesna reduced pain following failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS).[5] 

Special Population

  • There is no information reported for dose adjustment in patients with hepatic impairment.
  • As per the manufacturer's labeling information, it is considered pregnancy category B medicine for pregnant women.
  • An essential consideration of mesna administration is the breastfeeding status of females who are of reproductive age.[11] It is not well understood if mesna is present in breast milk; however, benzyl alcohol is often a component of mesna intravenous formulations. The manufacturer indicated that exposure to the breastfeeding infant is unlikely in part due to maternal metabolism. Nonetheless, benzyl alcohol has been linked to adverse events in infants, and therefore breastfeeding is not recommended for at least one week after the last mesna injection.

Adverse Effects

Mesna in both oral and IV administrations is commonly associated with gastrointestinal side effects, including nausea, vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain, and bad taste.[12] The most common side effect of mesna administration is due to adverse taste while taking the oral tablet. The patient can often vomit due to unpalatable taste, and it is a strong recommendation to take mesna along with a strong-tasting liquid.

Another documented adverse effect of mesna is hypersensitivity reactions, including rash and leukopenia. These have ranged from mild dermatologic reactions to systemic anaphylactic reactions, so it requires close monitoring.[13]


Mesna prophylaxis is contraindicated in patients who have hypersensitivity to thiol compounds and those who have previously had adverse reactions associated with a prior mesna administration.[14]


Along with mesna administration, providers must monitor urine for signs of hematuria and monitor urine output and hydration status. Few patients often have break-through hematuria, even if they are on mesna prophylaxis. If the physician deems mesna administration subtherapeutic as hemorrhagic cystitis is still present, an additional IV bolus or oral tablet may be administered.

Finally, it is essential to monitor patients for signs/symptoms of hypersensitivity or dermatologic toxicity. Reactions associated with mesna are rare; however, mesna has the potential to lead to severe hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylactic shock.[15]

Perform pregnancy tests for women of reproductive potential before initiating the medicine as it is often used with other chemotherapeutic treatments.


There is no indicated antidote to mesna overdose. Mesna administration is usually via IV bolus or an oral tablet, and therefore, unlike a drip, it cannot be immediately stopped with the appearance of adverse effects. If a hypersensitivity reaction is present after administration, supportive care with fluid administration is the recommended course.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Managing adverse reactions associated with any drug administration requires an interprofessional team of healthcare professionals that includes a nurse, laboratory technologists, pharmacists, and a number of physicians involved in patient care. Studies have shown that interprofessional communication in the healthcare environment has a significant improvement in patient outcomes and the cost burden of healthcare in regards to repeat-imaging, labs, and advanced testing.[16][17][18] [Level 2, Level 3]

The most common adverse effect of mesna administration, particularly in the oral form, is bad taste. Unfortunately, this can affect patient compliance with medication. In addition, if patients do not adhere to the regimen, it may lead to urinary tract irritation and hemorrhagic cystitis associated with ifosfamide and cyclophosphamide. To avoid this, healthcare providers at every level must effectively communicate the importance of taking this drug and discuss strategies to help make it more palatable. Examples of such measures include administering the medication with a strong-tasting liquid such as grape juice or crushing up the oral drug and mixing it into more palatable foods such as apple sauce. 

However, beyond the taste of mesna, there are additional adverse effects that one cannot afford to miss. Without proper management and monitoring, these can lead to more dire consequences, such as hypersensitivity reactions. As mesna is not a drug that is commonly associated with these serious adverse effects, healthcare providers are prone to take these reactions for granted or not consider mesna as the culprit. As soon as the patient presents with any adverse reaction to the nursing staff, they must promptly notify a physician. Once notified, it is also imperative that clinicians speak with the inter-professional team and involve pharmacists to identify and target the cause of such a reaction. There have been numerous case series associated with the adverse effects of mesna usage.[19][13][20] Therefore, collaboration and coordination between the interprofessional team consisting of clinicians, specialists, nursing staff, and pharmacists are crucial to improving the outcomes of the patient. [Level 5]

Article Details

Article Author

Vamsi Reddy

Article Editor:

Nicole R. Winston


6/21/2022 3:52:25 PM

PubMed Link:




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