Decorative image

Side effects of cyclophosphamide

Find out about the side effects of the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide. 

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects so they can help you manage them. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them.

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if any of your side effects get severe or if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C.

The side effects may be different if you are having cyclophosphamide with other cancer treatments.

Common side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 10 people (10%). You might have one or more of them.

Signs of an infection include headaches, aching muscles, a cough, a sore throat, pain passing urine, or feeling cold and shivery.

Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these signs, or your temperature goes above 37.5C or below 36C. Severe infections can be life threatening.

Chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells in the blood. This increases your risk of infections. White blood cells help fight infections.

When the level is very low it is called neutropenia (pronounced new-troh-pee-nee-ah).

You have antibiotics if you develop an infection. You might have them as tablets or as injections into the bloodstream (intravenously). To have them into your bloodstream you need to go into hospital.

Chemotherapy makes the level of red blood cells fall (anaemia). Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. When the level of red blood cells is low you have less oxygen going to your cells. This can make you breathless and look pale. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel breathless.

You have regular blood tests to check your red blood cell levels. You might need a blood transfusion if the level is very low. After a transfusion, you will be less breathless and less pale.

You can also feel tired and depressed when your blood count is low and feel better once it is back to normal. The levels can rise and fall during your treatment. So it can feel like you are on an emotional and physical roller coaster.

You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. It usually starts gradually within 2 to 3 weeks after treatment begins.

Your hair will grow back once your chemotherapy treatment has finished. This can take several months and your hair is likely to be softer. It can also grow back a different colour or be curlier than before.

Tips

  • Ask about getting a wig before you start treatment so you can match the colour and texture of your real hair.
  • You could choose a wig for a whole new look.
  • Think about having your hair cut short before your treatment starts.
  • Some people shave their hair off completely so they don't have to cope with their hair falling out.
  • Wear a hairnet at night so you won't wake up with hair all over your pillow.

You might have pain when you pass urine. Or you may see blood when you pass urine. This is caused by inflammation of the bladder. Let your doctor know if this happens. 

You should drink 8 to 12 cups of fluid a day to try to prevent this.

If you get a high temperature, let your treatment team know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.

Occasional side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them.

Your mouth might become sore a few days after you start treatment. It usually clears up gradually 3 to 4 weeks after your treatment ends.        

Your nurse can give you mouthwashes to help prevent infection. You have to use these regularly to get the most protection.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if your mouth is really sore. They can help to reduce the discomfort. Some people need strong painkillers to help control mouth pain so they can eat and drink.

Tips

  • Clean your mouth and teeth gently, use a soft bristled toothbrush.
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Use dental floss daily but be gentle so that you don't harm your gums, and don't floss if you have very low platelets.
  • Avoid neat spirits, tobacco, hot spices, garlic, onion, vinegar and salty food.
  • Moisten meals with gravies and sauces to make swallowing easier.
  • Eating fresh or tinned pineapple can keep your mouth fresh and moist.
  • Avoid acidic fruits such as oranges, grapefruit or lemons.

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

You might feel very tired during your treatment. It might take 6 months to a year for your energy levels to get back to normal after the treatment ends. A low red blood cell count will also make you feel tired.

You can do things to help yourself, including some gentle exercise. It’s important not to push yourself too hard. Try to eat a well balanced diet.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are finding the tiredness difficult to manage.

You might have chills. Let your doctor know if you have this. They may be able to prescribe medicines to help. 

Rare side effects

Each of these effects happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them.

There is a small risk that you may get a second cancer some years after this treatment. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

You might notice you:

  • bruise more easily
  • have nosebleeds
  • have bleeding gums when you brush your teeth

This is due to a drop in the number of platelets that help clot your blood.

If your platelets get very low you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs called petechiae.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have petechiae.

You'll have a platelet transfusion if your platelet count is very low. It is a drip of a clear fluid containing platelets. It takes about 15 to 30 minutes. The new platelets start to work right away. 

A small number of people have an allergic reaction, usually during the first or second treatment.

Symptoms include a skin rash, itching, feeling hot and shivering. Other symptoms include redness of the face, dizziness, a headache, shortness of breath and anxiety.

Tell your nurse or doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

Your nurse will keep a close eye on you and give you treatment straight away if this happens. They might slow your drip down.

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.

Tips

  • Eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day can be easier to manage.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to recommend high calorie drinks to sip between treatments, if you are worried about losing weight.
  • You can make up calories between treatments for the days when you really don’t feel like eating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you can't eat.
  • Don't fill your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating.
  • Try to eat high calorie foods to keep your weight up.

Heart problems include changes to how your heart works. This can cause changes to your heart rhythm and your ankles can swell.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have any chest pain. Your doctor might ask you to have tests to check your heart, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Numbness or tingling in fingers and toes can make it difficult to do fiddly things such as doing up buttons. This starts within a few days or weeks and can last for a few months. Rarely, the numbness may be permanent.

Tips

  • Keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Wear well fitting, protective shoes.
  • Take care when using hot water as you may not be able to feel how hot it is and could burn yourself.
  • Use oven gloves when cooking and protective gloves when gardening.
  • Moisturise your skin at least a couple of times a day.
  • Take care when cutting your nails.

You might develop changes in your lung tissue that can cause a cough or breathlessness. 

Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you suddenly become breathless or develop a cough.

You might feel sick or be sick. Anti sickness injections and tablets can control it. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel sick. You might need to try different anti sickness medicines to find one that works.

Tips 

  • Avoid eating or preparing food when you feel sick.
  • Avoid hot fried foods, fatty foods or foods with a strong smell.
  • Eat several small meals and snacks each day.
  • Relaxation techniques help control sickness for some people.
  • Ginger can help – try it as crystallised stem ginger, ginger tea or ginger ale.
  • Try fizzy drinks.
  • Sip high calorie drinks if you can’t eat.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diarrhoea or constipation. They can give you medicine to help. 

Skin problems include a rash, dry skin and itching.

During treatment, your nails may:

  • become brittle and dry
  • change colour
  • develop ridges

Tips

  • Check with your doctor whether you need to do anything to protect your skin.
  • Tell your doctor if you have any rashes or itching.
  • Don't go swimming if you have a rash, the chlorine can make it worse.
  • Use unperfumed moisturising cream if your skin gets dry and itchy, check with your doctor first if you have had radiotherapy to the area.
  • Wear a high factor sun block if you are going out in the sun.
  • Use nail oils or moisturising creams if your nails are flaking.

Women might stop having periods (amenorrhoea) but this may be temporary.

About cyclophosphamide

More information about this treatment

We haven't listed all the very rare side effects of this treatment. For further information see the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have that isn’t listed here to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.