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Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)

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This page tells you about the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin and its possible side effects. There is information about

 

What oxaliplatin is

Oxaliplatin is a chemotherapy drug based on platinum and is similar to cisplatin and carboplatin. It is used to treat bowel cancer (colorectal cancer), food pipe cancer (oesophageal cancer) and stomach cancer. It is also used in research trials for a number of other cancers.

 

How you have treatment

Oxaliplatin is a clear liquid that you have through a drip into a vein. It usually takes about 2 hours but may be given more slowly and take up to 6 hours if you have side effects. You may have it every 2 weeks or every 3 weeks, as a course of treatment.

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 them 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.

Chemotherapy is usually given as a course of several cycles of treatment. The treatment plan for oxaliplatin depends on which type of cancer you are being treated for. There is more about how doctors plan chemotherapy in CancerHelp UK.

The side effects associated with oxaliplatin are listed below. You can use the links to find out more about each side effect. If there is no link, click on search at the top of the page or go to our cancer drugs side effects section.

 

Common side effects

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

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 doctor if you have any of these side effects. Your doctor will check your blood counts regularly to see how well your bone marrow is working.

Other common side effects include

  • Fatigue during and after treatment – most people find their energy levels are back to normal from 6 months to a year after their treatment finishes
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes can start a few days or a few weeks after treatment – nearly everyone has this to some extent but it usually goes away a few months after your treatment is over. It may be worse if you are cold and may cause trouble with fiddly tasks, such as doing up buttons. Tell your specialist if this occurs
  • Feeling or being sick happens to about 7 out of every 10 people (70%) but is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines
  • Diarrhoea happens in about 4 out of 10 people (40%) treated with oxaliplatin alone, but in 6 out of 10 people (60%) who have oxaliplatin with other chemotherapy drugs – tell your doctor or nurse if it gets severe, if you cannot drink to replace lost fluid, or if it carries on for more than 3 days
  • A sore mouth can happen in as many as 4 out of 10 people (40%) treated with oxaliplatin in combination with fluorouracil – but with oxaliplatin alone, only about 4 out of every 100 people (4%) get a sore mouth
  • Taste changes 
  • Back pain
  • This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb, so it is not advisable to become pregnant or father a child if you are having this drug – talk about contraception to your doctor before having the treatment if there is any chance you or your partner could become pregnant
  • You should not breastfeed while having this drug as it may come through in the breast milk
 

Occasional side effects

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

  • Increased risk of blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and the legs (deep vein thrombosis,DVT)
  • Mood changes – some people can feel very sad and may become depressed
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing can be triggered by cold air in the first 5 days after you have oxaliplatin but usually clears up on its own – tell your doctor or nurse if you have this side effect and avoid cold drinks or ice cubes for the first few days
 

Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these.

  • Kidney damage is usually mild and only happens in about 3 out of every 100 people (3%) – your doctor will monitor your kidneys with blood tests but let them know immediately if you stop passing urine
  • Hair loss happens to about 2 out of every 100 people (2%) and all body hair may be affected
  • Inflammation around the drip site – if you notice any signs of redness, pain, swelling or leaking at your drip site, tell your chemotherapy nurse immediately
  • Allergic reactions can happen in about 1 in every 200 people (0.5%) while this drug is going into your bloodstream – tell your nurse if you go red in the face, have an itchy rash, or feel faint or breathless
  • Loss of fertility may happen with this drug, so it is important to talk with your doctor before starting treatment if having a baby is important to you
  • Women may stop having periods (amenorrhoea), but this may only be temporary
  • Inflammation of the pancreas – this causes pain in the abdomen
 

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 other 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 oxaliplatin

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: 9 May 2012