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What cisplatin is

Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug that is used to treat different types of cancer, including testicular cancer, germ cell cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, and non small cell lung cancer. At the centre of this drug is an atom of the metal platinum.

 

How you have cisplatin

You have cisplatin 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 PICC line or a portacath. These are long, plastic tubes that give the drugs directly into a large vein in your chest. You have the tube put in just before your course of treatment starts and it stays in place as long as you need it.

You usually have chemotherapy as a course of several cycles of treatment. We have detailed information about how chemotherapy treatment is planned on the planning chemotherapy page. You usually have cisplatin every 3 or 4 weeks. Or you may have it each week.

We've listed the side effects that cisplatin can cause below. You can use the links (underlined) to find out more about each side effect. Where is no link please use the search box at the top of the screen. You can also look in the section about the side effects of cancer drugs.

 

Common side effects

More than 10 in every 100 people have one or more of the side effects listed below.

A temporary drop in the number of blood cells made by the bone marrow, causing

  • 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, sore throat, pain passing urine or feel cold and shivery
  • 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)

Some of these side effects can be life threatening, particularly infections. You should contact your treatment centre if you have any of these effects. Your doctor will check your blood counts regularly to see how well your bone marrow is working.

Other common side effects include

  • Tiredness (fatigue) during and after treatment – most people find their energy levels are back to normal within 6 months to a year
  • Feeling or being sick can be severe – it may begin a few hours after treatment and last for a few days. It is usually possible to control this side effect with anti sickness injections and tablets but if you are still being sick, tell your doctor or nurse
  • Cisplatin can cause kidney damage – you will have blood tests before your treatment, to make sure your kidneys are able to cope with the drug. To help prevent damage it is important to drink plenty of water and you will have fluids into your vein before and after your treatment
  • You may have some hearing loss, especially with high pitched sounds
  • This drug may have a harmful effect on a developing baby – you should not become pregnant or father a child while taking this drug. Discuss contraception with your doctor or nurse before having the treatment, if there is any possibility that you or your partner could become pregnant.
 

Occasional side effects

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

  • Women may stop having periods (amenorrhoea) but this may only be temporary
  • Loss of fertility – you may not be able to get pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. It is important to talk to your doctor about your fertility before starting treatment
  • Loss of appetite may occur a few days after your treatment
  • 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 and usually goes within a few months of finishing treatment. Some people may have permanent numbness
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) happens in about 3 in 10 people (30%), but nearly always gets better on its own
  • Loss of taste or a metallic taste may occur
 

Rare side effects

A very small number of people have an allergic reaction while having cisplatin, usually at the first or second treatment. Let your treatment team know immediately if you have any skin rashes, itching, feeling hot, shivering, redness of the face, feeling dizzy, headache, shortness of breath, anxiety, or a sudden need to pass urine.

 

High dose side effects

Blurred vision can be a side effect of high doses of cisplatin. This will go back to normal once the treatment has finished. Or you may notice that you find it difficult to tell the difference between certain colours. This may carry on for a while after treatment has finished, but will usually get better on its own eventually.

 

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

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so that they can help you manage them. Your chemotherapy nurse, clinic or ward nurse will give you a contact number. You can ring if you have any questions or problems. They can give you advice or reassure you. 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.

 

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 cisplatin

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: 28 August 2012