What is carboplatin and etoposide?

It is best to read this information about carboplatin and etoposide with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.

Your cancer doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

More information about this treatment

This information is correct at time of publishing. But sometimes the types of cancer this treatment is used for, or treatment side effects, may change between revision dates.

You can talk to your cancer team if you want more detailed information about this treatment. Or visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website, which has patient information leaflets (PIL) for individual drugs.

How carboplatin and etoposide is given

You have carboplatin and etoposide in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy  gives it to you.

During a course of treatment, you usually see a:

  • cancer doctor
  • chemotherapy nurse or a specialist 
  • specialist pharmacist.

This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Before or on the day of each treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that it is safe for you to have chemotherapy.

You will speak to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist before you have chemotherapy. They will talk to you about your blood results and ask how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacy team will prepare your chemotherapy.

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. You may have the chemotherapy drugs through:a

  • cannula – a short, thin tube the  puts into a vein in your arm or hand
  • a central line – a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by
  • a PICC line – a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest.

Your nurse will give you carboplatin as a drip (infusion) over 30 to 60 minutes. You have etoposide as an infusion over 1 hour. You can also have etoposide as capsules.

Your course of chemotherapy

You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Carboplatin and etoposide chemotherapy can be given in different ways. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will talk to you about how the treatment will be given. They may give you a copy of a treatment plan to take home.

Taking etoposide capsules

If you are taking etoposide capsules, the nurse or pharmacist will give you these to take at home. Always take them exactly as explained. This is to make sure they work as well as possible for you.

You should take etoposide capsules on an empty stomach. This means either 1 hour before eating or 2 hours after food. Swallow the capsules whole with a glass of water. They should not be chewed,pened or crushed. Take them at the same time every day.

If you forget to take the etoposide capsules, take the next dose when it is due. Do not take a double dose to make up for the dose you missed, unless your doctor tells you.

Here are other things to remember about your capsules:

  • Wash your hands after taking your capsules.
  • Other people should avoid direct contact with chemotherapy drugs.
  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature. Keep away from moisture, heat and direct sunlight.
  • Keep them somewhere children cannot see or reach them.
  • 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.

Going home

Your nurse or pharmacist may also give you anti-sickness drugs and other medicines to take home. Take all your capsules or tablets exactly as they have been explained to you.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some that are less common.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. And you may have some side effects, including rarer ones, that we have not listed here. 

Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have. They can give you: 

  • drugs to help control some side effects
  • advice about managing side effects. 

It is important to take any drugs exactly as explained. This means they will be more likely to work for you. 

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause serious side effects. Sometimes, these may be life-threatening. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you 24-hour contact numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

Side effects while treatment is being given

Some people may have side effects while they are being given the chemotherapy or shortly after they have it:

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include: 

  • feeling hot or flushed 
  • shivering
  • itching
  • a skin rash
  • feeling dizzy or sick
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless or wheezy
  • 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, they can treat it quickly. 

Sometimes a reaction happens a few hours after treatment. If you develop any of these signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number.

The drug leaks outside the vein

The drug may leak outside the vein. If this happens it can damage the tissue around the vein. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important that it is dealt with quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein. 

Pain along the vein

This treatment can cause pain:

  • at the place where the drip (infusion) is given 
  • along the vein. 

If you feel pain, tell your nurse straight away. They can check the site. They may give the drug more slowly or flush it through with more fluid to reduce pain.

Common side effects

Risk of infection

This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If your white blood cell count is low, you may be more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

An infection can be very serious when the number of white blood cells is low. It is important to get any infection treated as soon as possible. If you have any of the following symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number:

  • a temperature above 37.5°C  
  • a temperature below 36°C 
  • you feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you have symptoms of an infection.

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery and shaking
  • a sore throat
  • a cough 
  • breathlessness
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine (pee) often, or discomfort when you pass urine.

It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.

Your white blood cell count 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, until your cell count increases.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.

If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • heavy periods
  • blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
  • tiny red, brown or purple spots that may look like a rash – these spots can be harder to see if you have black or brown skin. 

If you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need a drip to give you 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. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may feel:

  • very low in energy
  • breathless 
  • dizzy and light-headed. 

If you have these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need treatment for anaemia. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Feeling sick

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will prescribe anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as they tell you to, even if you do not feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.

If you feel sick, take small sips of fluid often and eat small amounts regularly. It is important to drink enough fluids. If you continue to feel sick, or if you are sick (vomit) 1 to 2 times in 24 hours, contact the hospital on the 24-hour number as soon as possible. They will give you advice. They may change your anti-sickness treatment. Let them know if you still feel sick.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect of this treatment. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it ends. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can help you feel less tired. 

If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.

Hair loss

Your hair will get thinner. Or you may lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as other body hair. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment.

If you want to cover up hair loss, there are different ways you can do this. Your nurse will give you information about coping with hair loss

Remember to protect your skin from the sun. Use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp. Or cover up with a hat or scarf.

Hair loss is almost always temporary. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends.

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is normal for you, or having watery or loose stools. You may also have stomach cramps. If you have a stoma, it may be more active than usual. 

If you are passing loose stools 3 or more times a day and this is not normal for you, contact the hospital as soon as possible on the 24-hour number. Follow the advice they give you about:

  • taking anti-diarrhoea medicines 
  • drinking enough fluids to keep you hydrated and to replace lost salts and minerals
  • any changes to your diet that might help. 

They might also ask you for a specimen of your stool to check for infection.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. Constipation means that you are not able to pass stools (poo) as often as you normally do. It can become difficult or painful. 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 on the 24-hour number for advice. They can give you drugs called laxatives to help. 

If you have not been able to pass stools for over 2 days and are being sick, contact the 24-hour number straight away. 

Tummy pain

You may get pain in your tummy (abdomen), or have indigestion. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you advice or treatment to help. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if your symptoms do not go away, or get worse.

Sore mouth and throat

This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

If your mouth or throat 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 and throat.

Changes to your taste

Some foods may taste different or have no taste. Try different foods to find out what tastes best to you. You may also get a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you advice. It might help to try:

  • sucking sugar-free sour or boiled sweets
  • eating cold foods
  • eating sharp-tasting fresh fruit.

Taste changes usually get better after treatment ends. We have more information about coping with changes to taste.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Don’t worry if you do not eat much for 1 or 2 days. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, or if you are losing weight, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements. Or they may suggest changes to your diet or eating habits to help.

Skin changes

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 daily. Etoposide can cause a rash, which may be itchy. It can also cause changes in skin colour. Your skin will return to its normal colour after you finish treatment. If you have ever had radiotherapy, the area that was treated may become red or sore. If you have dark skin, the area may get darker or paler.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may give you creams or medicines to help. Any changes in the skin will usually improve after treatment finishes.

Rarely, a much more serious skin condition can develop. You may have a skin rash which then blisters, and your skin can peel. If this happens, contact the hospital straight away.

Effects on the kidneys and liver

This treatment can affect how your kidneys and liver work. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment finishes. You will have blood tests to check how your kidneys and liver are working. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have blood in your urine (pee) or you are passing urine less than usual.

It is important to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of non-alcoholic fluid each day.

Blood pressure

This treatment may affect your blood pressure. Your nurse will check this regularly. Your blood pressure usually goes back to normal either during treatment or when treatment ends. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are taking any medication for your blood pressure. If you feel dizzy or faint, they may slow down your infusion.

Muscle or joint pain

You may get pain in your muscles or joints for a few days after treatment. If this happens, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you painkillers and advice. They can also tell you if any of the painkillers you usually take are suitable. 

If you have muscle or joint pain, try:

  • placing a heat pad or covered hot water bottle against the painful area
  • taking warm baths
  • planning your activities to include regular rests.

Less common side effects

Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

This treatment may affect the nerves in your fingers and toes. This can cause numbness, tingling or pain in your hands or feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You might find it hard to do fiddly tasks such as fastening buttons or tying shoelaces.

If you have these symptoms, always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They sometimes need to change the drug or the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment ends. But for some people they continue and are a long-term side effect of treatment.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works. You may have tests to check how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and after treatment.

If the treatment is causing heart problems, your doctor may change the type of treatment you are having.

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat
  • swollen feet and ankles.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. 

Always call 999 if you have:

  • chest pain, pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across the chest
  • difficulty breathing.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you develop: 

  • a cough that does not go away
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness.

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.

Hearing changes

This treatment may cause hearing changes, including hearing loss. You may have ringing in the ears. This is called tinnitus. You may also become unable to hear some high-pitched sounds. Hearing changes may get better after this treatment ends. But this does not always happen. If you notice any changes in your hearing, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Changes in vision

This treatment can affect your vision. If you have pain or notice any change in your vision, tell your doctor or nurse.

Tumour lysis syndrome (TLS)

Some people are at risk of developing a condition called tumour lysis syndrome (TLS) during this treatment. When treatment makes large numbers of cancer cells die and break down quickly, they release lots of waste products into the blood. This can affect how well the kidneys work. It may also cause problems with the heart rhythm.

TLS can be prevented. You will have regular blood tests to check for TLS. If you are at risk of TLS, you may have:

  • extra fluids through a drip
  • medicines such as rasburicase through a drip, or allopurinol as tablets.

Drinking at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluid a day will also help.

Effects on the nervous system

This treatment can affect the nervous system and brain. Very rarely, it can cause a condition called RPLS (reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome). Symptoms of RPLS include:

  • memory loss
  • a headache that does not get better
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • changes in your eyesight
  • fits (seizures).

If you or other people notice that you have any of these symptoms, it is important to act quickly.  

You should either:

  • call the 24-hour emergency number the hospital has given you
  • go to the hospital straight away.

You should not drive yourself to hospital.

You can make a full recovery from RPLS. But it needs to be diagnosed and treated quickly.

Second cancer

This treatment can increase the risk of developing a second cancer years later. But this is rare.

You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this. They can explain how the benefits of your treatment will outweigh the risk.

Other information

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • throbbing pain or swelling in a leg or arm
  • reddening of the skin in the area – if you have black or brown skin, this can be harder to notice, but the skin might become darker
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing.

Always call 999 if you have:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs called anticoagulants. These thin the blood. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information about preventing and treating blood clots.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful while you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as: 

Alcohol

Some preparations of this treatment contain alcohol. If having alcohol is a problem for you, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Your blood alcohol level may be above the legal limit after you have the treatment. Do not drive or operate machinery for a few hours after having this treatment, even if you feel okay.

Vaccinations

Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have vaccinations for flu and for coronavirus (covid). These help reduce your risk of serious illness from these infections. Most people can have these vaccines, including people with weak immune systems.

If your immune system is weak, you should not have live vaccinations. Live vaccines can make you unwell because they contain a very weak version of the illness they will protect you against. Live vaccines include Zostavax®, which is a shingles vaccine, and the yellow fever vaccine.

It is important to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice about having vaccinations. They can explain what vaccines are right for you and when it is best to have them.

Contraception

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. Follow their advice about:

  • what types of contraception to use 
  • how long after treatment you should continue to use contraception. 

Sex

It is possible that small amounts of chemotherapy may be passed on through vaginal fluids or semen. If you have sex during this treatment, your cancer team will usually advise using condoms or a dental dam to protect your partner.

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment ends. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk. 

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information.

Changes to periods

If you have a period, these may become irregular or stop while you are having this treatment. This may be temporary, but it can sometimes be permanent. Your menopause may start sooner than it would have done. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the healthcare professional that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor or cancer team so they can ask for advice.

If you have appointments with a dentist, always tell them you are having cancer treatment. Talk to your cancer team before you have any dental treatment.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert health professionals and people living with cancer.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
|
Next review: 01 July 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.