BEACOPP is used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma. It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.
Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.
BEACOPP is named after the initials of the drugs used:
- B – bleomycin
- E – etoposide
- A – doxorubicin (also called Adriamycin®)
- C – cyclophosphamide
- O – vincristine (also called Oncovin®)
- P – procarbazine
- P – prednisolone, a steroid.
Sometimes a drug called mesna is given with BEACOPP. Mesna helps to protect your bladder from irritation that could be caused by high doses of cyclophosphamide.
You will be given BEACOPP during a short hospital stay. You have some of the chemotherapy as an outpatient. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.
During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist 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 your blood cells are at a safe level to have chemotherapy.
You will see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs can be given through:
- a short, thin tube the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand (cannula)
- 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).
All the drugs are given into a vein except procarbazine and prednisolone which are given as capsules and tablets that you swallow.
Procarbazine capsules must be swallowed whole with a glass of water. They should not be chewed, opened or crushed. Take them at the same time every day. Always take them as they have been explained. Your doctor, nurse of pharmacist may advise you to avoid certain types of foods and alcohol while taking procarbazine.
If you forget to take the capsules, you should take the missed dose as soon as possible unless your next dose is due within a couple of hours. In this case, you should skip the missed dose and continue with you regular schedule. Do not take a double dose.
Other things to remember about your capsules:
- Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
- Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
- Wash your hands straight after taking the capsules.
- If you are sick just after taking the capsules, contact the hospital. Do not take another dose.
- If your treatment is stopped, return any unused capsules to the pharmacist.
The prednisolone tablets should be taken after breakfast. This helps to reduce any risk of indigestion or stomach problems. Prednisolone may also keep you awake at night if you take it later in the day, so it is best to take it in the morning.
You have chemotherapy as a course of several sessions (or cycles) of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of BEACOPP usually takes 3 weeks (21 days). Sometimes it may be given over 2 weeks. You may have between 4 and 8 cycles of BEACOPP. Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.
On day 1 the nurse will give you:
- doxorubicin as a slow injection (bolus) into your vein
- cyclophosphamide as a slow injection into the vein or as a drip
- etoposide as a drip (infusion), usually over 60 minutes.
You will start taking procarbazine and prednisolone. The procarbazine is taken for 7 days. You take prednisolone for either 7 or 14 days depending on whether you are having BEACOPP over 2 or 3 weeks. Your nurse or pharmacist will explain when to take the tablets.
On day 2 and 3 the nurse will give you another drip of etoposide.
On day 8 the nurse will give you:
- bleomycin as a drip, usually over 30 minutes to an hour
- vincristine as a drip, usually over 5 to 10 minutes, or longer.
After you finish all your prednisolone tablets you have a rest period. This means you do not take any tablets for the next 7 days. After the rest period you start your second cycle of BEACOPP.
We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects. You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them.
You may also have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.
Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.
Serious and life-threatening side effects
Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) to download a Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for these drugs. The leaflet lists all known side effects.
Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:
- feeling hot or flushed
- a skin rash
- feeling dizzy
- a headache
- feeling breathless
- swelling of your face or mouth
- pain in your back, tummy or chest.
Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your treatment. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, it can be treated quickly.
Sometimes a reaction can happen a few hours after treatment. If you get any signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away.
The drug leaks outside the vein
If the drug leaks outside the vein, it can damage the surrounding tissue. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important to treat it quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein.
If you get any of these symptoms after you get home, contact the doctor or nurse straight away on the contact telephone number they gave you.
Pain along the vein
You may get pain at the place where the injection is given or along the vein. If you feel pain, tell your nurse or doctor straight away so that they can check the site. They may give the drug more slowly or flush it through with more fluid to reduce pain.
Risk of infection
This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If the number of white blood cells is low, you are more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.
If you have an infection, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have if:
- your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F)
- you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
- you have symptoms of an infection.
Symptoms of an infection include:
- feeling shivery
- a sore throat
- a cough
- needing to pass urine often.
It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.
The number of white blood cells will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more treatment. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.
G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor) is a type of drug called a growth factor. It encourages the body to make more white blood cells.
Your doctor may give you G-CSF:
- if the number of white blood cells is very low
- to stop the number of white blood cells getting low.
You have it as a small injection under the skin.
Bruising and bleeding
This treatment 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 that you cannot explain. This includes:
- bleeding gums
- tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.
Some people may need a drip to give them extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
This treatment 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. This is called a blood transfusion.
You may feel sick in the first few days after this treatment. Your doctor will give you anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist tells you. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.
If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids and eat small amounts often. If you continue to feel sick, or if you vomit more than once in 24-hours, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They will give you advice and may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.
Loss of appetite
This treatment can affect your appetite. Do not worry if you don’t eat much for a day or two. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They will give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements.
Sometimes prednisolone can make you feel more hungry than usual, so do not worry if you find you are eating more while taking it. Prednisolone can also sometimes increase the level of sugar in your blood. If you have diabetes you may need to monitor your blood sugar more closely while taking this drug.
You may get a sore mouth or mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth infection.
Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.
If your mouth is sore:
- tell your nurse or doctor – they can give you a mouthwash or medicines to help
- try to drink plenty of fluids
- avoid alcohol, tobacco, and foods that irritate your mouth.
This treatment can cause constipation. Here are some tips that may help:
- Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
- Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
- Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.
If you have constipation, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can give you drugs called laxatives to help.
This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is usual for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual.
If you have diarrhoea:
- try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day
- avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods
- contact the hospital for advice.
Your hair will get thinner or you may lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes, eyebrows or other body hair. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment.
Your nurse can talk to you about ways to cope with hair loss. There are ways to cover up hair loss if you want to. It is important to cover your head to protect your scalp when you are out in the sun.
Hair loss is almost always temporary and your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends.
Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
This treatment affects the nerves, which can cause numb, tingling or painful hands or feet. You may 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 for some people they may never go away. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
This treatment 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. It 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.
Raised levels of uric acid (tumour lysis syndrome)
This treatment may cause the cancer cells to break down quickly. This releases uric acid (a waste product) into the blood. The kidneys usually get rid of uric acid, but may not be able to cope with large amounts. Too much uric acid can cause swelling and pain in the joints, which is called gout.
Your doctor may give you allopurinol tablets to help prevent this. Drinking at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluid a day will also help. You will have regular blood tests to check the uric acid levels.
Sometimes levels of different salts in the body can be changed and you may need to have a fluid drip to replace these.
Effects on the heart
Chemotherapy can affect the way the heart works. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and sometimes after treatment. If the treatment is causing heart problems, your doctor can change the type of chemotherapy you are having.
Contact a doctor straight away if you:
- have pain or tightness in your chest
- feel breathless or dizzy
- feel your heart is beating too fast or too slowly.
Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.
Changes in the way the liver works
Paclitaxel 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.
Effects on the lungs
You may have tests to check your lungs before and during treatment. Tell your doctor if you develop:
- a cough
- a fever (high temperature)
You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse.
After treatment with bleomycin, breathing higher doses of oxygen for several hours can cause lung problems. If you need to have a general anaesthetic or oxygen therapy in the future, always tell the doctor that you have had bleomycin.
Scuba diving is not recommended after treatment with bleomycin.
BEACOPP can increase the risk of developing a second cancer or a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome years later. This is rare. The benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.
Blood clot risk
Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:
- pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
- chest pain.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact a doctor straight away.
A blood clot is serious, but can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:
- medicines you have been prescribed
- medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
- vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.
Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.
You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.
Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or father a child during this treatment and for a year afterwards. The drugs may harm the developing baby. It is important to use effective contraception during and after your treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are worried about this.
Women are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.
Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant.
If you are a woman, your periods may become irregular or stop. This may be temporary, but for some women it is permanent. Your menopause may start sooner than it would have done.
Medical and dental treatment
If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.
If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.
If you have sex during this course of chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluids.