EP is a chemotherapy drug combination. It includes the drugs:
- E – etoposide (also known as Vepesid, Eposin or Etopophos)
- P – cisplatin (sometimes called platinum)
It is a treatment for a number of different cancer types. You might have EP alongside radiotherapy treatment.
How does EP work?
These chemotherapy drugs divide quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.
How do you have EP?
You have etoposide and cisplatin into your bloodstream (intravenously). You can have the drugs through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment. Or you might take etoposide as a capsule that you swallow.
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.
You must take your capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.
You should take the right dose, not more or less.
Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.
How often do you have EP?
You usually have EP as a course of several cycles of treatment. A cycle of treatment is the time between the start of one round of chemotherapy and the start of the next round. There is usually a break in between each round of treatment to allow your body to recover.
The length of each cycle and number of cycles varies depending on what type of cancer you have. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about this
You will have fluids (sterile salt water or saline) into your drip before and after the EP drips. This helps to keep your kidneys working properly.
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 EP?
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.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you 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.
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
Each of these effects happens in more than 1 out of 10 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).
You could lose all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarms, legs 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.
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.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, try 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 treat it once it has started.
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.
Your doctor or nurse will regularly check how well your liver is working during treatment.
Tell your doctor straight away if your urine looks much darker than usual or your skin or eyes look yellow.
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.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons while having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
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, nurse or pharmacist if you are constipated for more than 3 days. They can prescribe a laxative.
Occasionally you might have diarrhoea. Your doctor might give you anti diarrhoea medication. You should eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables. And drink plenty to replace the fluid loss.
Low level of salt (sodium) in the blood
Sodium is a salt. Having this treatment can lower salt levels in your blood. The symptoms of low sodium include headache, feeling and being sick, confusion, and restlessness. The levels usually go back to normal when you finish treatment. You have regular blood tests to check this.
You might get a high temperature (fever) after this treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if you do.
Change in skin colour
Your skin colour might become darker.
Tummy (abdominal) pain
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have tummy pain. They can check the cause and might be able to give you some medicine to help.
Feeling generally unwell
Speak to your doctor or nurse if you feel generally unwell after having this treatment.
Sore mouth and throat
You might get a sore mouth and mouth ulcers. You might also have a sore throat. It may be painful to swallow drinks or food. You will have mouth washes to keep your mouth healthy.
You can have painkillers to reduce the soreness. Take them half an hour before meals to make eating easier.
Occasional side effects
Each of these effects happens in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- skin rash, itching, hives
- nunbness or tingling in fingers or toes
- allergic reaction that can cause a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face and dizziness - some allergic reactions can be life threatening, alert your nurse or doctor if notice any of these symptoms
- inflammation around the drip site causing pain, reddness and swelling
- 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
- changes to the heartbeat (fast or slow) and heart rhythm or heart attack
- acute leukaemia
- high blood pressure or low blood pressure
- taste changes
- inflammation and soreness where you have had any previous radiotherapy
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:
- a low level of magnesium in the blood
- a rare disorder of the nerves causing headache, fits, confusion and changes in vision - contact your health team straight away. This condition is reversible.
- changes to the brain which might be reversible
- inflammation of the tissue of the lungs or scarring of the lungs
- 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.
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.
Pregnancy and contraception
This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or get someone pregnant while you're having treatment and for a few months afterwards.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment. Let them know straight away if you or your partner become pregnant while having treatment.
You may not be able to become pregnant or get someone pregnant 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 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 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 and possible side effects go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website. You can find the patient information leaflet on this website.
You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.