Vinblastine (Velbe) | Cancer Research UK
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What vinblastine is

Vinblastine is a chemotherapy drug and has the brand name Velbe. It is used most often for bladder cancer. 

It is also used to treat

  • Non Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Testicular cancer
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Histiocytosis X

How vinblastine works

Vinblastine belongs to a group of drugs called vinca alkaloids. These are often called plant alkaloids because the first of these drugs was developed from the periwinkle plant (vinca). These drugs are sometimes called microtubule inhibitors. This describes the way they work in damaging cancer cells. Vinblastine works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into two new cells. So it blocks the growth of the cancer.


How you have vinblastine

Vinblastine is a clear fluid and you have into your bloodstream (intravenously). 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 may 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 chemotherapy into a vein.

You usually have vinblastine chemotherapy as a course of several cycles of treatment. The treatment plan for vinblastine depends on which type of cancer you have.


Tests during treatment

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


About side effects

We've listed the side effects associated with vinblastine. 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 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 vinblastine with other medicines.

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 within 6 months to a year
  • Hair thinning is common and may start about 3 to 4 weeks after your treatment – it grows back when the treatment ends
  • Feeling or being sick is usually mild to moderate and happens within 24 hours of having treatment. It is usually easily controlled with anti sickness injections and tablets. Tell your doctor or nurse if yours is not controlled as there are other anti sickness medicines you can try
  • A sore mouth or mouth ulcers
  • 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 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

Occasional side effects

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

  • Numbness or tingling in fingers and toes can cause difficulty with fiddly things such as doing up buttons. This starts within a few days or weeks. It usually goes within a few months of finishing treatment
  • Inflammation around the drip siteif you notice any signs of redness, pain, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your chemotherapy nurse straight away
  • Constipation can be a problem but is generally prevented with regular laxatives. If you are constipated for more than 3 days, tell your doctor or nurse
  • Diarrhoea – drink plenty of fluids. Tell your doctor or nurse if it is severe or lasts more than a couple of days
  • Loss of appetite

Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these effects.

  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Skin rashes
  • A faster heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in eyesight
  • Difficulty emptying your bladder
  • High blood pressure
  • An allergic reaction – tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you feel faint or have a sudden cough, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. Also tell them if you have a sudden itchy rash, or swelling of the lips, mouth or throat

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.


Don't 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 vinblastine

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

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

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Updated: 24 July 2015