Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug. You might have it as a treatment for a number of different types of cancer.
How cisplatin works
This chemotherapy drug destroys quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.
How you have cisplatin
You usually have cisplatin as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously).
Into your bloodstream
You can have the drug through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.
Or you might have it through a long line: a central line, a PICC line or a Portacath.
These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.
When you have cisplatin
You usually have cisplatin as cycles of treatment. Each cycle takes 3 to 4 weeks. You might have cisplatin:
- every 3 or 4 weeks
- once a week
- every day over a 5 day period, every 3 to 4 weeks
You might have cisplatin on its own or in combination with other cancer treatments such as different chemotherapy drugs or radiotherapy.
Tests during treatment
You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.
We haven't listed all the side effects. It is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.
How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatment you are having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you are also having other drugs or radiotherapy.
When to contact your team
Your doctor or nurse will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:
- you have severe side effects
- your side effects aren’t getting any better
- your side effects are getting worse
Early treatment can help manage side effects better.
Common side effects
Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 10 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
Risk of infection
Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.
Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection.
Breathlessness and looking pale
You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.
Bruising, bleeding gums or nosebleeds
This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. 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 petechia).
Tiredness and weakness (fatigue)
You might feel very tired and as though you lack energy.
Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques, can all help.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can all put you off food and drinks.
Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, that is 4 loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid, or if it carries on for more than 3 days. Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty of liquid to replace the fluid lost.
Changes to your hearing
You might have some hearing loss, especially with high pitched sounds. You might also have some ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any changes.
To help prevent kidney damage, it is important to drink plenty of water. You have blood tests before your treatments, to check how well your kidneys are working. You might also have fluids into your vein before and after your treatment to help prevent this.
High temperature (fever)
If you get a high temperature, let your doctor or nurse know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.
Changes in levels of minerals in your blood
You may have changes in levels of minerals and salts in your blood, including low levels of sodium or high levels of uric acid (causing gout). You have regular blood tests during treatment to check this.
Occasional side effects
Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- heart problems such as slow, fast or irregular heartbeat
- inflammation around the drip site
- lung problems such as difficulty breathing and inflammation of the lung tissue
Rare side effects
Each of these effects happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- a second cancer called acute leukaemia
- an allergic reaction that can cause a skin rash, itching or redness of the skin
- low levels of magnesium in your blood
- fits (seizures)
- numbness or tingling in fingers and toes that can make it difficult to do fiddly things such as doing up buttons
- problems with your brain that can cause headaches, fits and confusion
- a heart attack
- a metallic taste in your mouth
- mouth sores and ulcers
- low levels of albumin in your body that can cause swelling and weakness
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do I need to Know
Other medicines, foods and drinks
Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.
Contraception and pregnancy
This treatment 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 at least 6 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Loss of fertility
You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. 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. Women may be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue but this is rare.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through into your breast milk.
Treatment for other conditions
Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and shingles vaccine (Zostavax).
- have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- have the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections
Avoid close contact with people who’ve recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as oral polio or the typhoid vaccine.
This also includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s poo for up to 2 weeks and could make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.
You should also avoid close contact with children who have had the flu vaccine nasal spray if your immune system is severely weakened.
More information about this treatment
For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.
You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.