Leucovorin (folinic acid)
This information is about a drug called leucovorin. It is also sometimes called folinic acid or calcium folinate.
Leucovorin is not a chemotherapy drug. But it is often given as part of chemotherapy treatment. It’s either given before chemotherapy to make the treatment more effective or after chemotherapy to reduce the risk of side effects.
This information is about leucovorin when it's given with the chemotherapy drugs fluorouracil (5FU) or methotrexate. It should ideally be read with our general information about chemotherapy and your type of cancer.
Leucovorin is often given with 5FU to treat cancers of the colon, rectum and other parts of the digestive system. Adding leucovorin has been shown to increase the effectiveness of 5FU.
Leucovorin is commonly given with methotrexate, which is used to treat many different types of cancer. It's mainly given with higher doses of methotrexate and can help reduce the side effects. It is sometimes known as 'folinic acid rescue' or 'leucovorin rescue'.
How leucovorin is given
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You will usually be given leucovorin in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you. 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.
Your nurse will give you the leucovorin 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).
Leucovorin may also be given as tablets. Before you leave hospital, the nurse or pharmacist will give you the tablets to take at home. It’s important to take your tablets exactly as explained. This is to make sure they work as well as possible for you.
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.
Possible side effects of leucovorin
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Side effects of leucovorin are rare. But sometimes you may have a high temperature (fever) after the drug has been given. Your doctor may prescribe some tablets to help relieve this. Any side effects you have are much more likely to be related to the chemotherapy drugs.
However, if you notice any side effects that you think may be related to the leucovorin, discuss them with your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.
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 leucovorin
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Some medicines can interact with leucovorin or be harmful when you are having leucovorin. 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.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) (accessed August 2013).
British National Formulary. 65th edition. 2013. British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
Micromedex® 2.0. Truven Health Analytics Inc. Available at: micromedexsolutions.com (accessed October 2013).
With thanks to Christine Clarke, Lead Pharmacist Oncology & Haematology, who reviewed this edition.
Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to grow.
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