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This page tells you about the chemotherapy drug combination R-CHOP and its possible side effects. There is information about


What R-CHOP is

CHOP is the name of a chemotherapy treatment for non Hodgkin lymphoma. R-CHOP is CHOP chemotherapy with the drug rituximab (Mabthera). 

Rituximab is a type of biological therapy called a monoclonal antibody. Monoclonal antibodies target proteins on the surface of cells. Rituximab targets a protein known as CD20. CD20 is found on white blood cells called B cells. It is the B cells that are cancerous in the most common type of non Hodgkin lymphoma. Rituximab attaches itself to the B cells and marks them. The cells of the immune system recognise the marked cells and kill them.

CHOP chemotherapy is made up of

  • C = Cyclophosphamide
  • H = Doxorubicin hydrochloride
  • O = Vincristine (which used to be called Oncovin)
  • P = Prednisolone (a steroid)

Having R-CHOP

You usually have R-CHOP in cycles of treatment over 3 weeks. A usual course of treatment consists of between 3 and 8 cycles so it can last from 9 to 24 weeks.

Some people may have R-CHOP over 2 weeks. You have the drugs in exactly the same way, but with less of a break between treatments. Doctors call treatment over 2 weeks R-CHOP14. Treatment over 3 weeks is called R-CHOP21.

On the first day of each cycle you have the following drugs

  • Rituximab
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Vincristine
  • Doxorubicin

You have the drugs into your bloodstream (intravenously). You can have them through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment. Or you may have them through a central line, a portacath, or a PICC line. These are long, plastic tubes that give the drugs directly into a large vein in your chest. You have the tube put in before or during your course of treatment and it stays in place as long as you need it.

You can read our information about having chemotherapy into a vein.

You have prednisolone (steroid) tablets to take at home for 5 days. Then you have a break with no treatment until the next treatment cycle starts.


Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and regularly during your treatment. The tests check your levels of blood cells. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.


About side effects

We've listed the side effects associated with R-CHOP below. You can use the links to find out more about each side effect. Where there is no link, please go to our cancer drug side effects section or use the search box at the top of the page.

You may have a few side effects. They 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)

The side effects may be different if you are having R-CHOP with other drugs.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if any of the side effects get severe.


Common side effects

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
  • 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, or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae)
  • Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) during and after treatment – most people find their energy levels are back to normal after 6 months to a year
  • A reaction to rituximab while having the drug – this causes flu like symptoms such as a fever, chills and shivering (rigors), a headache and feeling sick. About 1 in 20 people (5%) have a more severe reaction, with wheezing, an itchy rash and a drop in blood pressure. Your nurse will give you medicines beforehand to try to prevent a reaction. If you do have a reaction, they will slow your drip down or stop it for a while
  • Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Nerve problems causing abdominal cramps, constipation, numbness or tingling of fingers and toes, jaw pain or double vision. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these effects
  • Women may stop having periods (amenorrhoea) – this may only be temporary
  • Loss of fertility – you may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after this treatment. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future. Men may be able to store sperm before starting treatment
  • Your urine may become pink or red for one or two days after treatment with doxorubicin but this won't harm you
  • Mouth sores and mouth ulcers
  • Appetite changes – you may lose your appetite or the steroids may boost your appetite and make you put on weight
  • Skin changes – your skin may darken and you may have an itchy rash or become sensitive to sunlight. Use a high factor sun cream (at least 50SPF) and cover up when you go out
  • Indigestion, stomach pains or discomfort
  • Change in blood sugar levels – tell your doctor or nurse if you get very thirsty or if you are passing more urine than usual
  • A puffy face and ankles from fluid buildup
  • Difficulty in sleeping and mood swings – taking the steroids early in the day can reduce this
  • Inflammation around the drip siteif you notice any signs of redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your chemotherapy nurse straight away
  • A runny nose (rhinitis) during the rituximab drip, which is usually mild

Occasional side effects

Between 1 and 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these effects.

  • Allergic reactions to doxorubicin affect 3 people in 100 (3%) – this causes a sudden rash of pink, itchy bumps on your skin and reddening of the skin along the vein. This should clear up within a few days
  • Burning, stinging or pain on passing urine (cystitis) – if you see blood in your urine contact your nurse straight away
  • Temporary taste changes
  • Your nails may darken or become ridged or white lines may appear on them
  • Changes to the muscles of your heart may occur with high doses of cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin
  • Diarrhoea
  • Areas of skin that have been treated with radiotherapy may get red or sore, or the skin over your drug injection site may become discoloured

Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these effects.

  • There is a small risk of developing another cancer in the future after this treatment
  • Changes in lung tissue – tell your doctor if you have a cough or feel breathless

Important points to remember

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.

Other medicines

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 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.


Immunisations and chemotherapy

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.


More information about R-CHOP drugs

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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Updated: 24 April 2015