Vinblastine

Vinblastine is a type of chemotherapy. You might have it as a treatment for a number of different types of cancer.

How does vinblastine work?

Vinblastine works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into 2 new cells. So it blocks the growth of the cancer.

How do you have vinblastine?

You have vinblastine as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously).

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

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 vinblastine?

You usually have vinblastine chemotherapy as a course of several cycles of treatment. A cycle of treatment is the time between one round of treatment until the start of the next.

The number of treatment cycles you have depend on the type of cancer you are being treated for.

Your doctor or nurse will go through your treatment plan with you.

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.

What are the side effects of vinblastine?

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 advice line immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

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.

You might have one or more of these side effects. They include:

Allergic reaction

A small number of people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. 

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

  • a rash
  • shortness of breath
  • redness or swelling of the face
  • feeling hot
  • dizziness
  • a sudden need to pass urine

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 petechiae).

You may also find you have blood in your poo.

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.

Hair thinning and hair loss

Your hair may thin but you’re unlikely to lose all your hair. This usually starts after your first or second cycle of treatment. It is almost always temporary and your hair will grow back when you finish your treatment.

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.

Mouth sores, ulcers and sore throat

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.

Vinblastine can also cause a sore throat.

Loss of appetite and weight loss

You might not feel like eating and may lose weight. It is important to eat as much as you can. Eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day can be easier to manage. You can talk to a dietitian if you are concerned about your appetite or weight loss. 

Headaches

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

Dizziness and loss of balance (vertigo)

You might feel dizzy and you may feel as though the room is spinning. This is vertigo. Let your doctor or nurse know if this happens.

Fits (seizures)

Tell your doctor if you have any fits, twitching or jerking of your limbs. 

Diarrhoea or constipation

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

Tummy (abdominal) pain

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

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes (peripheral neuropathy)

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. 

High blood pressure (hypertension)

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches, nosebleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. Your nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

Low number of sperm

Your body may not produce as much sperm as it did before. This can make it more difficult to father a child. Talk to your doctor and nurse about any concerns you have about this. 

Skin changes

You might have blistering of the skin. Speak to your doctor or nurse for help with this.

Depression

Tell your doctor or nurse if you’re feeling depressed. They can arrange for you to talk to someone and give treatment if necessary.

Changes or loss of reflexes

Reflexes are an automatic response to something. Your body does these without you having to think about it. Vinblastine can cause changes or a loss of reflexes. For example, your knee may not jerk when you tap the knee tendon. 

Pain

This treatment can cause pain in your muscles, bones or where the tumour site is. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have it so that they can give you painkillers.

Eyes moving quickly from side to side (nystagmus)

This may happen from time to time. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have it. 

Hearing changes

You might have some difficulty with your hearing or hearing loss (deafness). This might be temporary or permanent.  Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any changes.

Inflammation around the drip site

Tell your nurse straight away if you have any pain, redness, swelling or leaking around your drip site.

Bowel not working

Your bowel may stop working temporarily (paralytic ileus). You might have:

  • sickness
  • swollen abdomen
  • stomach cramps

Tell your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms.

Feeling generally unwell

Speak to your doctor or nurse if you feel generally unwell after taking this drug.

Shortness of breath and a cough

This drug can cause lung problems when given with mitomycin.

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

Blood in your poo or sick

This is a rare side effect. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any blood in your vomit or your poo. 

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 drinks

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.

Loss of fertility

It is not known whether this treatment affects fertility in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Contraception and pregnancy

It is unknown whether treatment may or may not harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment. Let your team know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant while having treatment.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception you can use during treatment. Ask how long you should use it before starting treatment and after treatment has finished.

Breastfeeding

It is not known whether this drug comes through into the breast milk. Doctors usually advise that you don’t breastfeed during this treatment.

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.

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