This page tells you about the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine and its possible side effects. There are sections about
Dacarbazine is a chemotherapy drug used to treat melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a children’s cancer called neuroblastoma. It belongs to a group of drugs called alkylating agents. It works by sticking to one of the cancer cell's DNA strands and damaging it. DNA is the genetic code that is in the heart of all animal and plant cells and it controls everything the cell does. If the DNA is damaged the cell cannot then divide into 2 new cells.
Dacarbazine is a yellow liquid that you have into your bloodstream. You can have it as a slow injection through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment. Or you may have it as a drip for 20 minutes to an hour 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 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. Your treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer you have. There is information about planning chemotherapy in the chemotherapy section.
We have listed the side effects associated with dacarbazine below. You can use the links (underlined) to find out more about each side effect. Where there is no link please see our cancer drugs side effects section, or use the search box at the top of the page.
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
- 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, 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 and being sick may be severe, starting within 3 hours of the treatment and lasting for up to 12 hours – you will have anti sickness medicines before having chemotherapy and will have them to take regularly at home. Tell your doctor or nurse if your anti sickness drugs are not working
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to sunlight – don’t sit out in the sun, and do cover up or use sun block on exposed skin
- Dacarbazine may have a harmful effect on a developing baby – do talk to your doctor or nurse about contraception before having treatment if there is any chance that you or your partner could become pregnant. Men should continue to use contraception for 6 months after the treatment ends
Between 1 and 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these.
- Taste changes – foods may taste metallic
- Hair loss – you may have some hair thinning about 3 weeks after starting your treatment but complete hair loss is rare
- Flu like symptoms may last for a week after treatment for about 1 in 10 people – you may have a high temperature (fever), chills, muscle and joint aching, and weakness
- Inflammation around the drip site – if you notice any signs of redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your chemotherapy nurse immediately
Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these.
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 have given 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.
Breastfeeding is not advisable during dacarbazine treatment because the drug may come through in the breast milk.
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.
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.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team