Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
Bleomycin is a chemotherapy| drug usually given to treat testicular cancer|, lymphoma| and cancers of the head and neck|.
Bleomycin is a powder that dissolves to form a colourless fluid.
Bleomycin is given in one of the following ways:
The infusion takes about 30 minutes.
Bleomycin can also be given by injection:
An injection into a chest drain is done after the fluid that can build up between the layers covering the lungs (a pleural effusion|) is drained. This can help seal the two layers (the pleura) together to stop the pleural effusion from happening again.
Chemotherapy| is usually given as a course of several sessions (cycles) of treatment over a few months. The length of your treatment and the number of cycles you have will depend on the type of cancer you're being treated for. Bleomycin is commonly given alongside other chemotherapy drugs as part of a combination treatment (regimen)|. Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.
Before you begin your treatment your doctor will arrange for you to have blood tests. You'll usually be given anti-sickness drugs before and/or during your treatment.
Each person’s reaction to chemotherapy is different. Some people have very few side effects while others may experience more. The side effects described below won't affect everyone who has bleomycin and may be different if you're having more than one type of chemotherapy drug.
We have outlined the most common side effects but haven't included those that are very rare and unlikely to affect you. If you notice any effects that aren't listed here, discuss them with your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.
This may happen several hours after bleomycin is given but does not usually last long. Your doctor may give you a steroid drug (hydrocortisone) beforehand reduce this side effect. They can be taken before the bleomycin is given.
Bleomycin can cause a rash, which may be itchy. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help with this. Your skin may darken due to an excess amount of pigment. You may also notice long scratch-like streaks on your skin. Your skin will go back to normal a few months after treatment finishes.
Some people lose their appetite| while they’re having chemotherapy. This can be mild and may only last a few days. If it doesn’t improve you can ask to see a dietitian or specialist nurse at your hospital. They can give you advice on improving your appetite and keeping to a healthy weight|.
Feeling tired| is a common side effect of chemotherapy, especially towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s over. It’s important to try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. Try to balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks, which will help. If tiredness is making you feel sleepy, don’t operate or drive machinery.
Your mouth may become sore| or dry, or you may notice small ulcers during this treatment. Drinking plenty of fluids, and cleaning your teeth regularly and gently with a soft toothbrush, can help reduce the risk of this happening. Some people may find sucking on ice soothing. Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any of these problems, as they can prescribe mouthwashes and medicine to prevent or clear mouth infections.
You may notice that food tastes different|. Normal taste usually comes back after treatment finishes. A dietitian or specialist nurse at your hospital can give you advice about ways of coping with this side effect.
Your nails may become darker or ridged. They usually return to normal within a few months of finishing the treatment.
This may begin after treatment is given and lasts for up to 12 hours. Your doctor can prescribe very effective anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to prevent or greatly reduce nausea and vomiting|. If the sickness isn't controlled, or if it continues, tell your doctor; they can prescribe other anti-sickness drugs which may be more effective. Some anti-sickness drugs can cause constipation|. Let your doctor or nurse know if this is a problem.
Your hair may thin or fall out completely. This usually starts 3–4 weeks after starting treatment, although it may occur earlier. You may also have thinning and loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and hair in other areas of the body. Hair loss is temporary and your hair will grow back once the treatment has finished. Your hair may grow back straighter, curlier, finer, or a slightly different colour than it was before. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss|.
During treatment with bleomycin, and for several months afterwards, you'll be more sensitive to the sun and your skin may burn more easily than normal. You can still go out in the sun but should wear a suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF), and cover up with clothing and a hat.
Bleomycin can cause some changes to the lungs|. This can happen during treatment or after it has finished. Your doctor can give you information about this potential side effect.
Tell your doctor if you smoke, or if you notice any wheezing, coughing or breathlessness|. You’ll probably have a chest x-ray before starting bleomycin treatment, and you may have regular chest x-rays during your treatment.
It’s important to let your doctor know straight away if you feel unwell or have any severe side effects, even if they’re not mentioned above.
Cancer can increase the risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and chemotherapy may increase this risk further.
A blood clot may cause symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in a leg, or breathlessness and chest pain. Blood clots can be very serious, so it’s important to tell your doctor straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. Most clots can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. The doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some medicines, including those you can buy in a shop or chemist, can be harmful to take when you're having chemotherapy. Tell your doctor about any medicines you're taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies| and herbal drugs|.
Your ability to become pregnant or father a child may be affected by taking this treatment. It's important to discuss fertility| with your doctor before starting treatment.
It's not advisable to become pregnant or father a child while taking bleomycin as it may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception while taking this drug and for at least a few months afterwards. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.
It’s not known whether chemotherapy drugs can be present in semen or vaginal fluids. To protect your partner, it’s safest to either avoid sex or use a barrier form of contraception for about 48 hours after chemotherapy.
There's a potential risk that chemotherapy drugs may be present in breast milk. Women are advised not to breastfeed during chemotherapy and for a few months afterwards.
If you’re admitted to hospital for a reason not related to the cancer, it’s important to tell the doctors and nurses looking after you that you're having chemotherapy treatment. You should tell them the name of your cancer specialist so that they can ask for advice.
It’s a good idea to know who you should contact if you have any problems or troublesome side effects when you’re at home. Your chemotherapy nurse or doctor will give you details of who to contact for advice. This should include ‘out-of hours’ contact details if you need to call someone at evenings, overnight or at the weekend.
This section is based on our Bleomycin factsheet which has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
Watch our slideshow with tips for coping with a poor appetite
Watch our slideshow with tips for coping with a sore mouth
Watch our video about coping with fatigue
Watch our slideshow about avoiding infection when you have reduced immunity
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|