Teniposide (Vumon) | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

What teniposide is

Teniposide is a type of chemotherapy drug. It is also known as VM-26 and its brand name is Vumon.

Teniposide is not licensed in the UK. You might have it as part of a clinical trial. Or rarely, doctors prescribe it on an individual basis when they think it may be helpful. When doctors give a treatment that is not licensed it is called named patient prescribing.

Teniposide is sometimes used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in adults or children. It can also treat some types of non Hodgkin lymphoma, brain tumours, lung cancer and the children’s cancer neuroblastoma.


How teniposide works

Teniposide works by blocking an enzyme (called topoisomerase 2) which is necessary for cancer cells to divide and grow into 2 new cells. If this enzyme is blocked, the cell's DNA gets tangled up and the cell cannot divide. DNA is the genetic code that is in the nucleus of all animal and plant cells. It controls everything the cell does.


How you have teniposide

Teniposide is a clear liquid. You have it into your bloodstream as a drip that takes half an hour to an hour or more. You can have it through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment. Or you might have it 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 cancer drugs.

You usually have teniposide as a course of several cycles of treatment. The exact treatment plan depends on which type of cancer you have. 

You might have teniposide on its own or with other chemotherapy drugs.


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 teniposide. You can use the links to find out more about each side effect. Where there is no link, please go to our information about cancer drug side effects or use the search box at the top of the page.

You might 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 teniposide with other medicines.

Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist 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 if you have any of these side 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
  • A sore mouth occurs in 3 out of 4 people (75%)
  • Feeling or being sick happens in about 3 out of every 10 people (30%) – it is usually mild to moderate and well controlled with anti sickness medicines
  • Diarrhoea affects about 3 out of 10 people (30%)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) during and after treatment – many people find their energy levels are back to normal within 6 months to a year
  • Inflammation around the drip site – if you notice any signs of redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your chemotherapy nurse immediately

Occasional side effects

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

  • Low blood pressure during treatment and for a few hours afterwards
  • Hair thinning or complete hair loss – this is temporary and the hair will grow back when the treatment ends
  • Women may stop having periods (amenorrhoea) but this may only be temporary
  • Loss of fertility – you may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with teniposide. 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
  • 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)
  • An allergic reaction – tell your nurse straight away if you have chills, a high temperature (fever), a headache, wheezing, a racing heart, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or swelling of the face
  • A skin rash

Rare side effects

There is a small risk of getting a second cancer some years after teniposide treatment.


Important points to remember

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.

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 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.


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 teniposide

This page does not list all the very rare side effects of this treatment that are very unlikely to affect you. For further information ask your doctor or chemotherapy nurse.

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.

Rate this page:
Submit rating
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 4 May 2016