This page tells you about the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin and its possible side effects. There is information about
Oxaliplatin is a chemotherapy drug based on platinum. It is used to treat bowel cancer (colorectal cancer), food pipe cancer (oesophageal cancer) and stomach cancer. It is also used in research trials for a number of other cancers.
Oxaliplatin is a clear liquid that you have through a drip into a vein. It usually takes about 2 hours but may be given more slowly and take up to 6 hours if you have side effects. You may have it every 2 weeks or every 3 weeks, as cycles of treatment.
You can have oxaliplatin through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment. Or you may have it through a central line, a portacath or a PICC line. These are long, plastic tubes that give the drug directly into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place as long as you need it.
The treatment plan for oxaliplatin depends on which type of cancer you are being treated for. We have information about planning chemotherapy.
The side effects associated with oxaliplatin are listed below. You can use the links to find out more about each side effect. If there is no link, click on search at the top of the page or go to our cancer drugs side effects section. The side effects may be different if you are having oxaliplatin with other cancer drugs.
More than 10 in every 100 people have one or more of the side effects listed below.
- An increased risk of getting an infection from a drop in white blood cells. It is harder to fight infections and you can become very ill. You may have headaches, aching muscles, a cough, a sore throat, pain passing urine, or you may feel cold and shivery. If you have a severe infection this can be life threatening. Contact your treatment centre straight away if you have any of these effects or if your temperature goes above 38°C. Your doctor will check your blood cell levels regularly
- Tiredness and breathlessness due to a drop in red blood cells (anaemia). You may need a blood transfusion
- Bruising more easily due to a drop in platelets. You may have nosebleeds, bleeding gums after brushing your teeth, or lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechia)
- Tiredness (fatigue) during and after treatment. Most people find their energy levels are back to normal from 6 months to a year after their treatment finishes
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes can start a few days or a few weeks after treatment. Nearly everyone has this to some extent but it usually goes away a few months after your treatment is over. It may be worse if you are cold and may cause trouble with fiddly tasks, such as doing up buttons. Tell your specialist if this occurs
- Feeling or being sick happens to about 7 out of every 10 people (70%) but is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines
- Diarrhoea happens in about 4 out of 10 people (40%). Tell your doctor or nurse if the diarrhoea gets severe, if you cannot drink to replace lost fluid, or if it carries on for more than 3 days
- Taste changes
- Back pain
Between 1 and 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these.
- An increased risk of blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and the legs (deep vein thrombosis,DVT)
- A sore mouth can happen in about 4 out of every 100 people (4%)
- Mood changes – some people can feel very sad and may become depressed
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing can be triggered by cold air in the first 5 days after you have oxaliplatin. This usually clears up on its own. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have this side effect and avoid cold drinks or ice cubes for the first few days
Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these.
- Kidney damage is usually mild and only happens in about 3 out of every 100 people (3%). Your doctor will monitor your kidneys with blood tests but tell them straight away if you stop passing urine
- Hair loss happens to about 2 out of every 100 people (2%) and all body hair may be affected
- Inflammation around the drip site – if you notice any signs of redness, pain, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your nurse straight away
- Allergic reactions can happen in about 1 in every 200 people (0.5%) while this drug is going into your bloodstream – tell your nurse if you go red in the face, have an itchy rash, or feel faint or breathless
- Loss of fertility – you may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you plan to have a baby in the future
- Women may stop having periods (amenorrhoea), but this may only be temporary
- Inflammation of the pancreas – this causes pain in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen)
The side effects above may be mild or more severe. A side effect may get better or worse through your course of treatment, or more side effects may develop as the course goes on. This depends on
- How many times you've had the drug before
- Your general health
- The amount of the drug you have (the dose)
- Other drugs you are having
Coping with side effects
Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so they can help you manage them. They can give you advice or reassure you. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them.
Tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Some drugs can react together.
Pregnancy and contraception
This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Do not breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in the breast milk.
You should not have immunisations with live vaccines while you are having chemotherapy or for at least 6 months afterwards. In the UK, these include rubella, mumps, measles (usually given together as MMR), BCG, yellow fever and Zostavax (shingles vaccine).
You can have other vaccines, but they may not give you as much protection as usual until your immune system has fully recovered from your chemotherapy. It is safe to have the flu vaccine.
It is safe for you to be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections. There can be problems with vaccines you take by mouth (oral vaccines), but not many people in the UK have these now. So there is usually no problem in being with any baby or child who has recently had any vaccination in the UK. You might need to make sure that you aren't in contact with anyone who has had oral polio, cholera or typhoid vaccination recently, particularly if you live abroad.
This page does not list all the very rare side effects of this treatment that are very unlikely to affect you. For further information look at the Electronic Medicines Compendium website at www.medicines.org.uk.
If you have a side effect not mentioned here that you think may be due to this treatment you can report it to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) at www.mhra.gov.uk.
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