Carboplatin is a chemotherapy drug used to treat ovarian and small cell lung cancer. It may also be used to treat other types of cancer.
This information should ideally be read with our general information about chemotherapy and your type of cancer.
How carboplatin is given
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You have carboplatin in the chemotherapy day unit or during a short stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you. You may have it with other chemotherapy drugs. During treatment, you will usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse. This is who we mean when we mention doctor or nurse in this information.
Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that it is okay for you to have chemotherapy.
You will also see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will ask you about how you have been. If your blood results are alright on the day of your treatment, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your nurse will usually give you anti-sickness drugs as an injection into a vein before the chemotherapy. They will give you these through one of the following:
a short thin tube (cannula) that the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand
a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line)
a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).
Your nurse will give you carboplatin as a drip (infusion) into your cannula or line over about an hour. They usually run the drip through a pump, which gives you the treatment over a set time.
When the chemotherapy is being given
Some people might have the following side effects while they are having the chemotherapy:
Rarely, carboplatin may cause an allergic reaction while it’s being given. Your nurse will check you for this. If you have a reaction, they will treat it quickly. Signs of a reaction can include: a rash; feeling itchy, flushed or short of breath; swelling of your face or lips; feeling dizzy; having pain in your tummy, back or chest; or feeling unwell. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any of these symptoms.
Pain along the vein
If you have this, tell your nurse straight away. They will check your drip site and slow the drip to ease the pain.
Your course of chemotherapy
You have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (or cycles) of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of carboplatin usually takes 21 days. You have the carboplatin on day one of each cycle. But this will depend on the type of cancer you have. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about this and the number of cycles you are likely to have.
Before you go home, the nurse or pharmacist will give you anti-sickness drugs to take. Take all your tablets exactly as explained.
Possible side effects of carboplatin
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We explain the most common side effects of carboplatin here. But we don’t include all the rare ones that are unlikely to affect you.
You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are very unlikely to get all of them. If you are having other chemotherapy drugs as well, you may have some side effects that we don’t list here. Always tell your doctor or nurse about the side effects you have.
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help control some side effects. It is very important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist has explained. This means they will be more likely to work better. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, the side effects will start to improve.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. You can call them if you feel unwell or need advice any time of day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
Risk of infection
Carboplatin can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. This will make you more likely to get an infection. The number of white blood cells starts to reduce seven days after treatment and is usually at its lowest 10–14 days after. When the number of white blood cells is low, it’s called neutropenia.
Contact the hospital straight away on the contact number you’ve been given if:
your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F) or over 38°C (100.4°F), depending on the advice given by your chemotherapy team
you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
you have symptoms of an infection – this can include feeling shaky, a sore throat, a cough or needing to pass urine often.
The number of white blood cells usually increases steadily and returns to normal before your next chemotherapy. You will have a blood test before having more chemotherapy. If your white blood cells are still low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.
Bruising and bleeding
Carboplatin can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor if you have any bruising or bleeding you can’t explain. This includes nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots or rashes on the skin. Some people may need a drip to give them extra platelets.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
Carboplatin can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. These cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, you may be tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells (blood transfusion).
This may happen in the first few days after chemotherapy. Your doctor will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to help prevent or control sickness. They may also give you a steroid drug to help. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. It’s easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.
If you still feel sick, or vomit twice or more in 24 hours, contact the hospital on the numbers they gave you as soon as possible. They will give you advice and may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you. Some people may need to go to hospital for a short time so the doctors and nurses can control their sickness.
Feeling very tired is a common side effect. It’s often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s finished. Try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. It helps to balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks. If you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Changes in the way the kidneys work
Carboplatin can affect how your kidneys work. You will have blood tests before and during treatment to check this. Your nurse will ask you to drink plenty of fluid. Tell them if there are any changes in how much urine you are producing.
Changes in the way the liver works
Carboplatin may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.
Carboplatin may make you constipated and cause tummy pain. Drinking at least two litres of fluids (three and a half pints) every day will help. Try to eat more foods that contain fibre (such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread) and take some regular gentle exercise.
Less common side effects of carboplatin
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Changes in hearing
Carboplatin can affect your hearing, but this isn’t common. You may get ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and lose the ability to hear some high-pitched sounds. Tinnitus usually gets better after treatment ends. Some hearing changes can be permanent. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing.
Loss of appetite
You may lose your appetite during your treatment. Try to eat small meals regularly. Don’t worry if you don’t eat much for a day or two. If your appetite doesn’t improve after a few days, let your nurse or dietitian know. They can give you advice on getting more calories and protein in your diet. They may give you food supplements or meal replacement drinks to try. Your doctor can prescribe some of these and you can buy them from chemists.
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to control diarrhoea. Let them know if it is severe or if it doesn’t get better. Make sure you drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day if you have diarrhoea.
Your mouth may become sore and you may get ulcers. This can make you more likely to get an infection in your mouth. Gently clean your teeth and/or dentures morning and night and after meals. Use a soft-bristled or children’s toothbrush. Your nurse might ask you to rinse your mouth regularly or use mouthwashes. It’s important to follow any advice you are given and to drink plenty of fluids.
Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any problems with your mouth. They can prescribe medicines to prevent or treat mouth infections and reduce any soreness.
Your hair may thin but you’re unlikely to lose all the hair from your head. This usually starts after your first or second cycle of chemotherapy. It is almost always temporary and your hair will grow back after treatment ends. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss.
Numb or tingling hands or feet
These symptoms are caused by the effect of carboplatin on the nerves. It’s called peripheral neuropathy. You may also find it hard to fasten buttons or do other fiddly tasks.
Always tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. They may be able to control them by lowering the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment finishes, but in some people they may never go away. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
It is important to tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you feel ill or have severe side effects. This includes any we don’t mention here.
Other information about carboplatin
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Blood clot risk
Cancer increases the chances of a blood clot (thrombosis) and chemotherapy can add to this. A clot can cause symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in a leg, breathlessness and chest pain. Contact your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms. A blood clot is serious but your doctor can treat it with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some medicines can interact with chemotherapy or be harmful when you are having chemotherapy. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
Carboplatin can affect your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant or father a child during treatment. This is because the drugs may harm a developing baby. It’s important to use contraception during and for a few months after chemotherapy. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
If you have sex within the first couple of days of having chemotherapy you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluid.
Women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months afterwards. This is in case there is chemotherapy in their breast milk.
Medical and dental treatment
If you need to go into hospital for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having chemotherapy. Give them contact details for your cancer doctor.
Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse if you think you need dental treatment. Always tell your dentist you are having chemotherapy.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
British National Formulary. 65th edition. 2013. British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC). medicines.org.uk (accessed August 2013).
Truven Health Analytics Inc. Micromedex® 2.0. micromedexsolution.com(accessed August 2013).
With thanks to Elin Gwyn, Macmillan Pharmacist who reviewed this edition.
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