Oxaliplatin and capecitabine (XELOX)

Oxaliplatin and capecitabine is a chemotherapy combination known as XELOX. This combination might also be called CAPOX, CAPE-OX or OxCap.  

It is a treatment for bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). 

How does oxaliplatin and capecitabine work?

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

How do you have oxaliplatin and capecitabine?

You have oxaliplatin into your bloodstream (intravenously).

Capecitabine comes as tablets that you swallow whole, with plenty of water. You usually take the tablets twice a day, about 12 hours apart. You should take them within 30 minutes of finishing a meal.

Your doctor will tell you the amount (dose) of capecitabine you need to take. You might have two different strengths of tablets to make up the correct dose. 

Taking your tablets

You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Speak to your pharmacist if you have problems swallowing the tablets.

Whether you have a full or an empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, no more or less.

Talk to your healthcare team before you stop taking or miss a dose of a cancer drug.

Into your bloodstream

You might 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.

How often do you have oxaliplatin and capecitabine?

You have oxaliplatin and capecitabine chemotherapy as cycles of treatment. This means you have the drugs and then a rest to allow your body to recover.

Each cycle lasts 3 weeks (21 days). Depending on your needs, you may have between 4 and 8 cycles.

You have each treatment cycle in the following way:

Day 1
  • You have oxaliplatin as a drip into your bloodstream over 2 hours.
  • You take capecitabine tablets in the evening.
Day 2 to 14
  • You take capecitabine tablets twice a day.
Day 15
  • You take capecitabine tablets in the morning.
Day 16 to 21
  • You have no treatment.

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.

Before starting treatment with capecitabine you have a blood test to check levels of an enzyme called dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD). A low DPD level might mean you are more likely to have severe side effects from these drugs. So you may start treatment with a lower amount (dose) of the drug or have a different treatment. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this.

What are the side effects of oxaliplatin and capecitabine?

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. 

Contact your advice line, doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, such as a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C, or if you develop a severe skin reaction. Signs of a severe skin reaction include peeling or blistering of the skin.

We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your healthcare team if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons. 

Increased risk of getting an 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, nosebleeds, or bleeding from other areas of the body

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 petechiae).

Less commonly you might also bleed from other areas of the body for other reasons. For instance, some people might notice their poo is quite dark or they might pass fresh blood. Rarely some people might cough up blood or have unusual bleeding from the vagina.

Let your healthcare team know straight away if you have any bleeding. 

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.

Allergic reaction

A reaction may happen during the infusion, causing a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills. Your nurse will give you medicines beforehand to try to prevent a reaction. Tell your nurse or doctor immediately if at any time you feel unwell. They will slow or stop your drip for a while and give you medicine to help relieve your symptoms.

Increased sensitivity to cold 

Oxaliplatin can make you more sensitive to the cold. It can affect your throat causing it to feel as though it is difficult to breathe and swallow. This can happen whilst you have oxaliplatin or within a few hours of it finishing. It’s only temporary but can feel quite frightening. 

Opening and closing the fridge or freezer, touching metal, eating or drinking cold foods and changes in temperature from the weather can trigger this.

It can help wearing gloves and avoid very cold food and drink before and after oxaliplatin.

Let your nurse know straight away if it's affecting your breathing and swallowing. They can slow down your drip if this happens. 

Changes to levels of substances in the blood

This treatment can cause your blood sugar and sodium levels to go up. Or your level of potassium might go down. Less commonly your calcium levels might drop. 

You will have regular blood tests to check on these.

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.

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.

Sore mouth

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

Less commonly you might have a dry mouth.

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.

Taste changes

Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually goes back to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.

Tummy (abdominal) pain

Tell your treatment team if you have this. They can check the cause and give you medicine to help. 

Headaches

Tell your doctor or nurse if you keep getting headaches. They can give you painkillers to help.

Soreness, redness and peeling on hands and soles of the feet

The skin on your hands and feet may become sore, red, or may peel. You may also have tingling, numbness, pain and dryness. This is called hand-foot syndrome or palmar plantar syndrome.

Moisturise your skin regularly. Your healthcare team will tell you what moisturiser to use.

It is important to keep hands and feet well moisturised.

Skin problems 

Skin problems include a skin rash which might be red and itchy. Less common skin problems might include your skin getting dry, peeling, blistering, cracked, and changes in skin colour. Other rare skin changes include ulcers, raised areas of skin that may be itchy, being sensitive to sunlight and previously treated areas of skin with radiation can become irritated and inflamed 

This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes. Your nurse will tell you what products you can use on your skin to help.

Hair loss

You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. Your hair will usually grow back once treatment has finished but it is likely to be softer. It may grow back a different colour or be curlier than before.

Pain in different parts of your body 

This treatment can cause back pain and pain at the drip site during treatment. Let your nurse know straight away if your drip site is causing you pain. Less commonly you might get pain from other areas of the body such as your joints, bones, limbs, or chest.

High temperature (fever)

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

Rigor

A sudden feeling of cold with shivering often with a rise in temperature and sweating.

Weight changes

You may gain weight while having this treatment. Or less commonly you may lose weight.

You may be able to control it with diet and exercise. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are finding it difficult to control your weight. 

Difficulty breathing or a cough 

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you have a cough or are breathless. This could be a sign of infection or more rarely lung problems such as asthma, a blood clot in the lung, a collapsed lung (pneumothorax), or changes to the lung tissue, making it less flexible.

Constipation

Constipation is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are constipated for more than 3 days. They can prescribe a laxative.

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • blood clots that can be life threatening; signs are pain, redness and swelling where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot in the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • eye problems such as watery eyes, inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis) or vision changes such as blurred or double vision
  • high blood pressure, much more rarely you may get a low blood pressure
  • hiccups
  • indigestion or reflux
  • passing wind (flatulence)
  • kidney changes – you will have regular blood tests to check for this
  • problems with passing urine such as burning or stinging when going, passing blood and changes to how often you go. Rarely you might be unable to control when you pass urine  
  • fluid build up in different parts of the body
  • feeling generally unwell (malaise)
  • low levels of fluid in the body (dehydration)
  • feeling very low (depression)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • dizziness
  • nail problems such as ridges
  • sweating more than usual
  • pain along the vein
  • liver problems that are picked up on blood tests, rarely you might have yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • runny nose
  • numbness and tingling sensation on the skin can make it difficult to do fiddly things such as doing up buttons (peripheral neuropathy)
  • inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges) causing symptoms similar to meningitis such as stiff neck, headaches and unable to look at bright light
  • swelling of the nerves to your muscles, this can cause problems with moving your body causing weakness, clumsiness, loss of balance and falls
  • a sudden feeling of being hot and your skin going red (flushing)

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (less than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • ear problems such as hearing loss and rarely you might pain in your ears and unable to hear
  • heart problems such as changes to heartrate or rhythm, angina or a heart attack
  • severe skin reaction that may start as tender red patches which leads to peeling or blistering of the skin. You might also feel feverish and your eyes may be more sensitive to light. This is serious and could be life threatening
  • lumps under the skin (lipoma)
  • a blood disorder where your red blood cells get destroyed faster than they can be made (haemolytic anaemia)
  • changes in blood sugar levels (diabetes)
  • confusion or memory changes
  • lack of interest in sex
  • high levels of a type of fat in your blood
  • panic attacks this can make you feel as though your heart is pounding, sweating, feeling weak and dizzy and having trouble breathing
  • fainting
  • difficulty speaking
  • problems with your balance and coordination of your movements
  • the feeling of the room around you is spinning or moving (vertigo)
  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and muscle aches
  • blockage or slow movement of the gut
  • inflammation of different parts of the digestive system Open a glossary itemsymptoms can include tummy pain and discomfort, loss stool (diarrhoea) that may or may not have blood in, loss of appetite and urgency to go to the toilet
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling nervous
  • imbalance of substances in your blood (metabolic acidosis) – it can cause confusion, tiredness, shortness of breath and headaches
Contact a doctor straight away if you have any of the following symptoms:
  • headache
  • confusion
  • seizures (fits)
  • blurring or loss of vision

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.

Lactose intolerance

Capecitabine contains lactose (milk sugar). If you have an intolerance to lactose, contact your doctor before taking this medicine.

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 6 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

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 might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.    

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment and for 2 weeks after your final treatment. This is 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.

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 one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.

You can have:

  • other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • the flu vaccine (as an injection)
  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment

Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your immune system Open a glossary item recovers from treatment.

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can 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 the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

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.

Related links