Procarbazine is a chemotherapy drug used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma and some other types of cancer.
This information should ideally be read with our general information about chemotherapy and your type of cancer.
How procarbazine is given
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Procarbazine comes in capsules. It is sometimes given in combination with other chemotherapy drugs. You can have procarbazine at home or during a stay in hospital. During treatment, you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse in the out-patient clinic or in the ward. This is who we mean when we mention your 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.
You may be given anti-sickness tablets to take home as well. Your nurse or pharmacist will explain them to you.
Taking your chemotherapy capsules
Always take the procarbazine capsules exactly as explained. It's important to take your capsules at the right times. This is to make sure they work as well as possible for you. Don’t open the capsules. They should be swallowed whole with a full glass of water.
If you are sick just after taking the capsules, contact the hospital. You may need to take another dose. If you forget to take a capsule, do not take a double dose. Keep to your regular schedule and let your doctor or nurse know.
Other things to remember about your capsules:
Keep them in the original package.
Store them at room temperature away from heat and direct sunlight.
Keep them safe and out of the reach of children.
Return any remaining capsules to the pharmacist if your treatment is stopped.
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. Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.
Possible side effects of procarbazine
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We explain the most common side effects of procarbazine 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 for you. 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
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. This will make you more likely to get an infection. 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, diarrhoea or needing to pass urine a lot.
The number of white blood cells usually increases steadily and returns to normal before your next treatment. 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
Procarbazine 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)
Procarbazine 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).
Feeling very tired is a common side effect. It’s often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s over. 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.
This may begin soon after the treatment starts and last for a few days. Your doctor will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains to you.
If you still feel sick or are vomiting, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They can give you advice and change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.
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.
Muscle and/or joint pain
You may get pain in your joints or muscles for a few days after chemotherapy. Tell your doctor if this happens so they can prescribe painkillers. Let them know if the pain does not get better. Try to get plenty of rest. Taking regular warm baths may help.
Numb or tingling hands or feet
These symptoms are caused by the effect of procarbazine on nerves. It’s called peripheral neuropathy. You may also find it hard to fasten buttons or do other fiddly tasks.
Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. They sometimes need to lower 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
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.
Chemotherapy may affect your skin. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. Procarbazine can cause a rash, which may be itchy.
Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.
Changes in the way the liver works
Procarbazine 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.
Less common side effects of procarbazine
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Rarely, procarbazine can cause an allergic reaction. Signs of a reaction can include a rash, feeling itchy, wheeziness, shortness of breath, swelling of your face or lips, or feeling unwell. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any of these symptoms. If you develop any of these symptoms after you get home, contact the hospital on the numbers you’ve been given immediately or go to the nearest accident and emergency department.
Effects on the lungs
Procarbazine can cause changes to the lungs. Always tell your doctor if you develop wheezing, a cough, a fever or feel breathless. You should also let them know if any existing breathing problems get worse. If necessary, they can arrange for you to have tests to check your lungs.
Effects on the nervous system
Procarbazine can affect the nervous system. You may feel anxious or restless, or have problems sleeping. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. They may make some changes to your treatment if they become a problem for you. It’s important not to drive or operate machinery if you notice these effects. Rarely this treatment can cause you to have seizures (fits).
Rarely, procarbazine can increase the risk of developing a second cancer, usually leukaemia, years later. But the benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.
Other information about procarbazine
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Interaction with alcohol and some foods
It’s best to avoid certain foods, alcohol and alcohol-free beers and wines when you’re taking procarbazine. These can cause a reaction which can make you feel sick, and cause headaches, sweating, drowsiness and breathing problems. Avoid foods such as mature cheeses, salami, and yeast or beef extracts (Oxo ®, Bovril ® and Marmite ®). Your nurse, doctor or pharmacist will give you more advice on foods to avoid.
Some other medicines can interact with chemotherapy. Procarbazine interacts with a number of different drugs. Medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist may also be harmful when you are having chemotherapy. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
Blood clot risk
Cancer increases the chance 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.
Procarbazine may affect your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, you can talk to your doctor or nurse before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant or to father a child during treatment. This is because the drugs may harm a developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception during and for a few months after chemotherapy. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
If you have sex in 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.
Changes to your periods
Chemotherapy can sometimes stop the ovaries working. You may not get a period every month and they may eventually stop. In some women, this is temporary, but for others it is permanent and they start the menopause.
Women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months after. 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. Explain you are taking chemotherapy tablets that no one should stop or restart without advice from your cancer doctor. 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:
electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC). medicines.org.uk (accessed July 2013).
Perry MC. The Chemotherapy Source Book. 5th edition. 2012. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
With thanks to Kelly Baillie, Senior Clinical Pharmacist who reviewed this edition.
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