Carboplatin is a chemotherapy drug usually given to treat ovarian and lung cancer, but may also be used to treat many other types of cancer. This information should ideally be read with our general information about chemotherapy and your type of cancer.
What carboplatin looks like
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Carboplatin is a colourless fluid.
Carboplatin can be given as a drip (infusion) in one of the following ways:
through a fine tube inserted into a vein, usually in the back of your hand (cannula)
through a fine, plastic tube inserted under the skin and into a vein near your collarbone (central line)
into a fine tube inserted into a vein in the crook of your arm (PICC line).
The infusion takes about 60 minutes.
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.
Carboplatin 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 will 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 here won't affect everyone who has carboplatin 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 rare and unlikely to affect you. If you notice any effects that are not listed here, discuss them with your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.
Risk of infection
Carboplatin can reduce the number of white blood cells, which help fight infection. White blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. If the number of your white blood cells is low you'll be more prone to infections. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.
Neutropenia begins seven days after treatment, and your resistance to infection is usually at its lowest 10–14 days after chemotherapy. The number of your white blood cells will then increase steadily and usually return to normal before your next cycle of chemotherapy is due.
Contact your doctor or the hospital straight away if:
your temperature goes above 38°C (100.4°F)
you suddenly feel unwell even with a normal temperature.
You'll have a blood test before having more chemotherapy to make sure the number of white blood cells has recovered. Occasionally, it may be necessary to delay your treatment if the number of your blood cells (blood count) is still low.
Bruising and bleeding
Carboplatin can reduce the production of platelets, which help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor if you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding, such as nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots or rashes on the skin. You may need to have a platelet transfusion if your platelet count is low.
Carboplatin can reduce the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around
the body. A low red blood cell count is called anaemia. This may make you feel tired and breathless.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms. You may need to have a blood transfusion if the number of red blood cells becomes too low.
Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)
This may begin after the treatment is given and last for up to a day. 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 that may be more effective.
Some anti-sickness drugs can cause constipation. Let your doctor or nurse know if this is a problem.
Loss of appetite
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 drive or operate machinery.
Less common side effects
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Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
This is due to the effect carboplatin has on nerves and is known as peripheral neuropathy. You may also notice that you have difficulty doing up buttons, or doing other fiddly tasks. Peripheral neuropathy is very rare if you receive normal doses of carboplatin, but it may occur if you have high-dose treatment.
Tell your doctor if you notice any numbness or tingling in your hands or feet. It's important to report your symptoms to your doctor as they may be controlled by slightly lowering the dose of the drug.
This effect usually begins to improve slowly a few months after the treatment is finished. Sometimes symptoms can persist; talk to your doctor if this happens.
Changes in hearing
This is very rare if you have standard doses of carboplatin. But if you have high-dose treatment you may develop ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and may lose the ability to hear some high-pitched sounds. This side effect usually decreases when the treatment ends. Let your doctor know if you notice any loss of hearing or tinnitus.
This can usually be controlled with medicine, but let your doctor know if it's severe or continues. It's important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhoea.
You may get constipated. This can usually be helped by drinking plenty of fluids, eating more fibre and doing some exercise. You may need to take medicine (laxatives) to help. Your doctor can prescribe these or you can buy them at a pharmacy.
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 kidneys may be affected
This doesn't usually cause any symptoms and the effect is generally mild. If the effect is severe, the kidneys can be permanently damaged unless the treatment is stopped. For this reason your kidneys will be checked by a blood test before each treatment.
If necessary, you may be given medicine to help you pass urine. You may be asked to drink extra fluid before and after treatment. It’s important to do this, so let your doctor know if this is a problem – for example, if you're feeling sick.
This is extremely rare if you have normal doses of carboplatin but may happen if you have high-dose treatment. Hair loss may begin 3–4 weeks after starting treatment, although it can occur earlier. It is temporary, and your hair will start to grow back once treatment ends. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss.
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.
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Risk of developing a blood clot
Cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having 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 is important to tell your doctor straightaway if you have any of these symptoms. Most clots can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some other medicines, including those you can buy in a shop or a 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 drug. 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 carboplatin 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.
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 Carboplatin factsheet which has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Sweetman, et al. Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference. 37th edition. 20. Pharmaceutical Press.
Electronic Medicines Compendium. (accessed October 2011).
British National Formulary. 62nd edition. 2011. British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
Perry MC. The Chemotherapy Source Book. 4th edition. 2007. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.