Cisplatin and capecitabine (CX)
CX is the name of a chemotherapy combination that includes:
- cisplatin - pronounced as sis-pla-tin
- capecitabine (Xeloda) - pronounced as ka-pe-site-a-been
It is a treatment for a number of different types of cancer.
How does CX work?
These chemotherapy drugs destroy quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.
How do you have CX?
- cisplatin as a drip into your bloodstream
- capecitabine comes as a tablet that you swallow whole, with plenty of water. You take it twice a day, within 30 minutes of finishing a meal
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 a cancer drug or if you miss a dose.
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
How often do you have CX?
You have CX chemotherapy as cycles of treatment. This means that you have the drugs and then a rest to allow your body to recover.
Each cycle of treatment lasts 21 days (3 weeks). You might have up to 6 cycles of CX chemotherapy, taking around 5 months in total. You might have each cycle of treatment in the following way:
- Fluids as a drip to hydrate you for 1 hour into your bloodstream.
- Cisplatin as a drip for 1 to 4 hours into your bloodstream.
- More fluids as a drip to hydrate you for a further 2 hours.
- Take capecitabine tablets morning and evening.
- Continue to take capecitabine tablets morning and evening.
- You have no treatment.
Then you start the cycle again.
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.
Between 2 and 8 out of 100 people (2 to 8%) have low levels of an enzyme called dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD) in their bodies. A lack of DPD can mean you’re more likely to have severe side effects from capecitabine or fluorouracil. It might take you a bit longer to recover from the chemotherapy. These side effects can rarely be life threatening.
Before starting treatment with capecitabine or fluorouracil you have a blood test to check levels of DPD. 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 CX?
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.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, pharmacist 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
- the side effects are affecting your daily life
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:
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 or nosebleeds
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).
Tiredness, weakness (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.
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.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons whilst having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
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 or dry mouth and ulcers
Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids and avoid acidic foods such as lemons. Chewing gum can help to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.
Soreness, redness and peeling on palms and soles of feets
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.
Tummy (abdominal) pain
Tell your treatment team if you have this. They can check the cause and give you medicine to help.
Changes in levels of minerals in your blood
You may have changes in levels of minerals and salts in your blood, including low levels of sodium or high levels of uric acid (causing gout). You have regular blood tests during treatment to check this.
To help prevent kidney damage, it is important to drink plenty of water. You might also have fluids into your vein before, during and after treatment. You have blood tests before your treatments to check how well your kidneys are working.
Changes to your hearing
You might have some hearing loss, especially with high pitched sounds. You might also have some ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any changes.
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:
- changes in heart rhythm - you may have a heart trace (ECG) before and during your course of treatment
- hair loss - this is usually mild and grows back once treatment has finished
- skin and hair problems such as a rash, dry or itchy skin and brittle nails - talk to your doctor or nurse about any changes to your skin
- changes to your liver, picked up on a blood test
- pain in your joints, back, chest, legs and arms
- depression - talk to your nurse if you have a change in mood
- difficulty sleeping
- breathing problems such as a cough, shortness of breath and inflammation of your lung tissue (pneumonia) - tell your doctor if you have any shortness of breath
- swelling and pain around the drip site - chemotherapy can damage the tissue so tell your nurse if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling
- constipation - drink plenty and eat foods high in fibre. Your nurse can give you laxatives to help if needed
- lack of fluid in your body (dehydration)
- weight loss
- loss of taste or metallic taste in your mouth
- numbness or tingling usually in your fingers or toes
- eye problems such as watery eyes, or sore or red eyes
- headaches and dizziness - let your doctor or nurse know if you have these side effects
Rare side effects
These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- allergic reaction that can cause a skin rash, itching and redness of the skin
- a fatty lump under the skin (lipoma)
- changes in blood sugar levels (diabetes)
- angina or a heart attack - call 999 if you have chest pain
- numbness or tingling in your fingers or toes
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- feeling stiff or muscle weakness
- fits (seizures)
- confusion or memory problems
- a small risk of developing a secondary cancer some years after treatment
- a 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
- feeling cold in your hands or feet
- blood in your poo (stool)
- fever or feeling cold and shivering
- a blood clot in the deep veins of your body (deep vein thrombosis, DVT) that could possibly travel to your lungs (pulmonary embolism). This could be life threatening if not treated quickly.
Symptoms of a blood clot includes:
- pain, redness and swelling around the area where the clot is and may feel warm to touch
- pain in your chest or upper back – dial 999 if you have chest pain
- coughing up blood
Other side effects
There isn't enough information to work out how often these side effects might happen. You might have one or more of them. They include:
- low levels of albumin
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do you need to know?
Other medicines, foods and drinks
Cancer drugs can interact with medicines, herbal products, and some food and drinks. We are unable to list all the possible interactions that may happen. An example is grapefruit or grapefruit juice which can increase the side effects of certain drugs.
Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Also let them know about any other medical conditions or allergies you may have.
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.
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.
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. For example, if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.
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
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. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.
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.