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Cisplatin and fluorouracil (5FU)

Find out what the drug combination of cisplatin and fluorouracil is, how you have it and other important information.

Cisplatin and fluorouracil (5FU) are a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

They are a treatment for

  • anal cancer
  • head and neck cancer
  • oesophageal (foodpipe) cancer

How it works

These chemotherapy drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.

How you have it

You have cisplatin and fluorouracil into your bloodstream (intravenously).

You can have the drugs through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

Or you can have them through a central line, a PICC line or a portacath. These are long, plastic tubes that give the drugs into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.

When you have treatment

You have cisplatin and 5FU as cycles of treatment.

You have between 2 and 6 cycles of treatment. Each cycle lasts 3 weeks (21 days).  Your doctor will tell you how often and when you have it.

On the first day of the cycle you have

  • cisplatin through a pump for between 1 and 8 hours
  • extra fluids through a drip before and after the cisplatin to protect your kidneys
  • 5FU as a drip through a pump for either 4 days or continuously for 21 days

The pump may be a small portable one if you have a long line. This means that you can go home with it. You go back to the hospital for the nurses to refill it or disconnect it.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you need to go back.


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.

Side effects

Important information

Other medicines, foods and drink

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.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you're having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.


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.

DPD deficiency

Around 5 out of 100 people (5%) have low levels of an enzyme called DPD in their bodies. A lack of DPD can mean you’re more likely to have severe side effects from fluorouracil. It doesn’t cause symptoms so you won’t know if you have a deficiency. Contact your doctor if your side effects are severe.


Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • 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 these drugs

We don’t list all the very rare side effects of this treatment that are unlikely to affect you. For further information look at the Electronic Medicines Compendium website.

You can report any side effect you have that isn’t listed here to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA).

Last reviewed: 
05 Jul 2017
  • Treatment of Cancer (6th edition)

    Price, P and Sikora, K (Eds)

    CRC Press

  • Immunisation against infectious disease: Chapter 6: General contraindications to vaccination
    Public Health England
    Published March 2013

  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    Roland K Keel
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2012

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