Vincristine | Cancer Research UK
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What vincristine is

Vincristine is a chemotherapy drug. It is a treatment for various types of cancer including

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Leukaemia
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Brain tumours

How vincristine works

Vincristine belongs to the 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. Vincristine works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into two new cells. So it blocks the growth of the cancer.


How you have vincristine

You have vincristine 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 vincristine chemotherapy once a week. The treatment plan depends on which 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 vincristine. 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 vincristine 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 these.

  • Tiredness (fatigue) during and after treatment – most people find their energy levels are back to normal within 6 months to a year
  • Severe constipation with abdominal pain occurs in 1 in 3 people (30%). This can generally be prevented with regular laxatives – if you are constipated for more than 3 days, tell your doctor or nurse
  • Abdominal pain
  • Numbness and tingling in fingers and toes can cause difficulty with fiddly things such as doing up buttons. This starts within a few days or weeks and usually goes within a few months of finishing treatment
  • 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
  • Feeling or being sick is usually mild and well controlled with anti sickness injections and tablets
  • Hair thinning or complete hair loss (alopecia) occurs in about 1 in 5 people (20%). If you have this, it will probably start about 3 to 4 weeks after your treatment. It is temporary and your hair will grow back when your treatment is finished. sometimes the hair grows back during the treatment

Occasional side effects

Between 1 and 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 weakness
  • Inflammation around the drip siteif you notice any signs of redness, pain, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your  nurse straight away
  • Effect on the bladder nerves, causing an inability to pass urine
  • An allergic reaction while having the drug – let your nurse or doctor know straight away if you have a sudden skin rash, itching, breathlessness or swelling of the lips, face or throat
  • Taste changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Jaw pain, caused by vincristine affecting your nerves
  • The bowel may stop working temporarily (called paralytic ileus) and may cause sickness, a swollen abdomen and stomach cramps. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have this
  • A skin rash
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Throat pain
  • A high temperature (fever) in children
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea – drink plenty of fluids if you get diarrhoea. Let your doctor or nurse know if it lasts for more than 3 days or gets severe

Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these effects.

  • Muscle cramps
  • Staggering and difficulty walking
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Temporary or permanent hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle wasting
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • A hole in the digestive system – let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you have sudden, severe tummy pain or blood in your vomit or poo

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.


Related information


More information about vincristine

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 August 2015