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Fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin C

Fluorouracil (5FU) and mitomycin C is the name of a chemotherapy combination that includes: 

  • mitomycin C
  • fluorouracil (5FU or FU)

It is a treatment for anal cancer. You usually have it alongside a course of radiotherapy. This combined treatment is called chemoradiotherapy.

How it works

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

How you have 5FU and mitomycin C

You have mitomycin and fluorouracil into your bloodstream. You may be able to have the infusions of 5FU at home if you have a central line.

To have the 5FU at home, you need to have the infusions through a small pump. You can keep the pump in a small bag, or a bag on a belt (like a bum bag). You’ll need to go back to the hospital to have the pump changed or taken down. Or sometimes a chemotherapy nurse may be able to do this at your home.

Into your bloodstream

You have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

If you don't have a central line

You might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

When you have 5FU and mitomycin C

You usually have fluorouracil and mitomycin C alongside radiotherapy. You start radiotherapy on the same day as you begin chemotherapy. You then continue to have radiotherapy every weekday (Monday to Friday) for about 5 weeks.

You have between 25 and 28 sessions (fractions) of radiotherapy. And you have 5FU and mitomycin C on the following days:

Week 1 of radiotherapy
  • You have mitomycin C as a fast drip into your vein on day 1
  • You have fluorouracil as a continuous drip into your bloodstream for 4 days
Week 2, 3 and 4 of radiotherapy
  • You have no chemotherapy treatment but continue to have radiotherapy
Week 5 of radiotherapy
  • You have fluorouracil as a continuous drip into your bloodstream for 4 days

You may stay in hospital while having the fluorouracil. Or you might have the infusions of 5FU at home if you have a central line.

Tests

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

We haven't listed all the side effects. It's 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 treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist 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. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

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

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Bruising and bleeding

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)

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) can happen during and after treatment - doing gentle exercises each day can keep your energy up. Don't push yourself, rest when you start to feel tired and ask others for help.

Loss of appetite

You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

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.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

A sore mouth

Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. Keep your mouth and teeth clean; drink plenty of fluids; avoid acidic foods such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits; chew gum to keep the mouth moist and tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more 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 to replace the fluid lost.

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: 

  • hair loss that usually grows back once the chemotherapy treatment has finished
  • brittle, chipped and ridged nails
  • skin sensitivity to sunlight
  • a skin rash that can also be itchy
  • watery eyes
  • coughing and breathlessness
  • changes in the way your kidneys work
  • blurred vision and gritty eyes
  • dark or discoloured veins over the injection site
  • sore, red and peeling skin on hands and feet
  • redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site

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:

  • changes to the heart muscle that are usually temporary but for a small number of people might be permanent
  • confusion or unsteadiness
  • total body hair loss that includes eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair

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 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.

Loss of fertility

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with these drugs. 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.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drugs may come through in 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.

Immunisations

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 the 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 have had live vaccines as injections

Avoid close contact with people who have 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. You should do so for 2 weeks following their vaccination if you have a severely weakened immune system.

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.

Information and help