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Topotecan (Hycamtin, Potactasol)

Find out what topotecan is, how you have it and other important information about taking topotecan.

Topotecan is a chemotherapy drug and is also known by its brand names, Hycamtin and Potactasol.

It is a treatment for:

  • ovarian cancer that has spread to other parts of the body
  • small cell lung cancer that has come back or spread
  • cervical cancer that has come back after radiotherapy or has spread

How it works

Topotecan is a type of chemotherapy drug called a topoisomerase 1 inhibitor. It works by blocking a chemical called topoisomerase 1.

This chemical helps to separate and repair the DNA in cells when they divide. Cancer cells need to make and repair DNA in order to grow and multiply. Blocking the action of this enzyme damages the DNA and so the cells die.

How you have it

Topotecan is available as Hycamtin capsules or as a clear liquid given into a vein (intravenously). 

Taking your capsules

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

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

You should swallow the capsules whole and don't crush, chew or cut them. You can take them with or without food. 

If you forget to take a dose don't take a double dose to make up for it. Just take the usual dose at the next scheduled time. 

Drugs into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

When you have it

You usually have treatment every 3 weeks. 

For ovarian and small cell lung cancer

You usually take topotecan capsules for 5 days every 3 weeks.

For cervical cancer

You have treatment for about half an hour once a day for 3 days. You usually have it with another chemotherapy drug called cisplatin on the first day. This treatment cycle is repeated every 3 weeks. 

You usually have 6 or more treatment cycles. Your doctor will discuss with you when to stop the treatment.

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.

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.


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).

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. 


Drinking alcohol during topotecan treatment may make you feel very unwell. Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol.

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

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