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Vinorelbine (Navelbine)

Vinorelbine is a type of chemotherapy. You might have it as a treatment for:

  • advanced breast cancer
  • Non small cell lung cancer
  • cancer of the outer covering of the lung (mesothelioma)

How vinorelbine works

Vinorelbine is a type of drug called a vinca alkaloid. It stops the cancer cells from separating into 2 new cells. So it blocks the growth of the cancer.

How you have vinorelbine

You have vinorelbine as capsules or you might have it as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously).

Into your bloodstream

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

Or you might have it through a long line: a central line, a PICC line or a Portacath.

These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.

Taking your capsules

You swallow them with plenty of water.

Don’t chew or suck the capsules because the drug could make your mouth sore if it leaks out. If you do this accidentally, rinse your mouth out over and over again with clean water and contact your doctor or nurse as soon as possible.

Don’t take the capsules with a hot drink as this can make them dissolve too quickly.

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

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

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

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

When you have vinorelbine

You usually have vinorelbine as a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about this and how many you are likely to have. The treatment plan depends on which type of cancer you have.

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

We haven't listed all the side effects. It is 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 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, 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:

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.

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.

Diarrhoea or constipation

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

Hair loss (complete hair loss)

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

Sore mouth and throat

It may be painful to swallow drinks or food. Painkillers and mouth washes can help to reduce the soreness and keep your mouth healthy. 

Loss of reflexes

You may find you have changes to your reflexes. For example, your knee may not jerk when you tap the knee tendon. 

You may also have weakness in your legs and changes in your sense of touch.

High temperature (fever)

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.

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).

Fatigue (during and after treatment)

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.

Liver changes

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 levels of chemicals produced by the liver.

Inflammation around the drip site

Tell your nurse straight away if you notice any signs of redness, swelling or leaking at your drip site.

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. 

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:

  • pain in different parts of your body, including where the tumour is
  • headaches and dizziness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • taste changes
  • skin reaction
  • inflammation of the throat and food pipe causing difficulty in swallowing food or liquids
  • chills
  • weight gain
  • coughing and shortness of breath
  • changes to blood pressure which can cause headaches, dizziness or feeling faint
  • eyesight changes
  • pain, burning or difficulty passing urine
  • problems with your nerves which can cause motor neurone diseases

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:

  • a severe infection which can be life threatening
  • severe constipation and stomach pain
  • problems with balance and body movements
  • flushing (redness) of your hands and feet
  • a severe allergic reaction which can cause difficulty breathing and feeling faint
  • a drop in the levels of sodium in your body which can cause headaches and sickness
  • heart problems such as angina and a heart attack
  • severe difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • feeling cold in the hands or feet

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

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.

Contraception and pregnancy

This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 3 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

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.

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 if your immune system is severely weakened. 

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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