Vinblastine is a chemotherapy drug that is usually given to treat bladder cancer. It can also be used to treat other cancers, including lymphoma and Kaposi's sarcoma.
What vinblastine looks like
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Vinblastine is a colourless fluid.
Vinblastine should only be given to adults and adolescents by drip (infusion) in one of the following ways:
through a fine tube (cannula) placed into the vein, usually in the back of the hand
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 around 5–10 minutes.
Children can be given vinblastine by slow injection into a vein (intravenously) through a cannula or line.
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. Vinblastine 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 sideeffects while others may experience more. The side effects described here won't affect everyone who has vinblastine 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 arerare and unlikely to affect you. If you notice any effects that aren't listed here, discuss them with your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.
Risk of infection
Vinblastine 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 will 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 check the number of white blood cells. Occasionally, your treatment may need to be delayed if the number of your blood cells (blood count) is still low.
Bruising and bleeding
Vinblastine 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.
Vinblastine 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) or being sick (vomiting)
This is usually mild. If you do feel sick, it may begin a few hours after treatment and last for a few days. Your doctor can prescribe 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 work better for you. Some anti-sickness drugs can cause constipation. Let your doctor or nurse know if this is a problem.
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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Abdominal pain and constipation
Vinblastine can cause pain in your tummy (abdomen) and constipation. Let your doctor know if you develop pain. It can usually be controlled with mild painkillers.
Constipation 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.
It's very unusual to lose your hair. Some people notice that their hair becomes a little thinner but not usually enough to be noticeable to other people.
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.
Vinblastine can cause diarrhoea. This can usually be easily controlled with medicine, but tell your doctor if it's severe or continues. It's important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhoea.
Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
This is due to the effect vinblastine has on the nerves and is known as peripheral neuropathy. Tell your doctor if you notice these symptoms or have difficulty carrying out fiddly tasks, such as doing up buttons. This problem usually improves slowly a few months after the treatment has finished.Sometimes, these symptoms can persist;tell your doctor if this happens.
Very rarely, other nerves may be affected, such as the neck nerves, which may cause pain in the jaw or double vision.
Some people find that vinblastine causes headaches. Let your doctor or nurse know if you get headaches, as they can give you painkillers to relieve them.
This may happen following your treatment. Tell your nurse or doctor if youexperience jaw pain.
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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Leakage into the tissue around the vein (extravasation)
If this happens when vinblastine is being given, the tissue in that area can become damaged. Tell the doctor or nurse immediately if you notice any stinging or burning around the vein while the drug is being given. This is unlikely to happen if the chemotherapy is given through a central or PICC line.
If the area around the injection site becomes red or swollen at any time, you should tell the doctor or nurse on the ward. If you're at home, ring the clinic or ward and ask to speak to the doctor or nurse.
Risk of developing a blood clot
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.
Your ability to become pregnant or father a child may be affected by having 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 having vinblastine as it may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception while having this drug and for at least a few months afterwards. You can discuss this with your doctor.
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.
Some medicines, including those that 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.
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 information has been compiled using informationfrom a number of reliable sources, including:
Sweetman, et al. Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference. 37th edition. 2011.
British National Formulary. 62nd edition. 2011. British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC). (accessed September 2011).
Perry MC. The Chemotherapy Source Book. 4th edition. 2007. Lippincott William and Wilkins.
Using Vinca Alkaloid Minibags (Adult/Adolescent Units). August 2008. National Patient Safety.