What is cisplatin and topotecan?

Cisplatin and topotecan is a combination of chemotherapy drugs used to treat advanced cervical cancer. It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.

The drugs used in this treatment are:

Your 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 cisplatin and topotecan is given

You will be given cisplatin and topotecan in the chemotherapy day unit or during a short stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give this treatment to you.

During treatment, you usually see a:

  • cancer doctor
  • chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse
  • 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 your blood cells and other substances in your blood are at a safe level to have chemotherapy
  •  how well your kidneys and liver are working.

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will talk to you about your blood results and 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 will give you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. 

You may have the chemotherapy drugs through: 

  •  a cannula – a short, thin tube the nurse 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
  •  an implantable port (portacath) – a disc that is put under the skin on your chest or arm and goes into a vein in your chest.

Your nurse will give you topotecan and cisplatin as a drip (infusion). The drip is usually connected to a pump, which gives you the treatment over a set time. Topotecan is given over 30 minutes. Then cisplatin is given over a longer period of time, usually 2 hours. 

You will have extra fluids given through the drip, before and after the cisplatin. Your nurse will explain how long it will take to have the extra fluids.

Your course of cisplatin and topotecan

You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of cisplatin and topotecan takes 21 days (3 weeks). You have this treatment on the first 3 days of each cycle:

  • day 1 – you have topotecan and then cisplatin
  • days 2 and 3 – you have topotecan only
  • days 4 to 21 – you have a break with no chemotherapy for 18 days. 

At the end of the 21 days, you start your second cycle of treatment. This is the same as the first cycle. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how your treatment will be given and the number of cycles you are likely to have.

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

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.

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.

You may be given a drug called G-CSF. This encourages the body to make more white blood cells. 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.

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.

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.

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number, if:

  • a sore mouth or throat affects how much you can drink or eat 
  • your mouth, tongue, throat or lips have any blisters, ulcers or white patches. 

They can give you advice, and mouthwash or medicines to help with the pain or to treat any infection. Follow their advice and make sure you:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid alcohol and tobacco
  • avoid food or drinks that irritate your mouth and throat.

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.

Diarrhoea

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

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist may give you anti-diarrhoea drugs to take at home. 

If you have diarrhoea or a mild increase in stoma activity, follow their advice about: 

  • taking anti-diarrhoea drugs 
  • how much and what type of fluids to drink 
  • any changes to your diet that might help. 

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if:

  • you have diarrhoea at night 
  • you have uncomfortable stomach cramps
  • you have diarrhoea 4 or more times in a day 
  • you have a moderate increase in stoma activity 
  • the anti-diarrhoea drugs do not work within 24 hours.

You may need to give a stool sample, or go to hospital to have fluids through a drip or antibiotics.

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. 

Effects on the kidneys

Cisplatin can affect how your kidneys work. You will have blood tests before and during treatment to check how well your kidneys are working. 

Before and after each treatment, your nurses will give you extra fluids through a drip. You may also have a drug called mannitol. This is to protect your kidneys and prevent any kidney damage.

Your nurse will tell you how long it will take to have the extra fluids. They will also give you advice about how much fluid to drink for the next 24 hours. 

Throughout the rest of your chemotherapy cycle, it is also important to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day. 

Tell your nurse or doctor if you are: 

  • not able to drink as much as you have been asked to – for example, if you feel sick
  • being sick or have diarrhoea 
  • passing less urine (pee) than usual.

Effects on the liver

This treatment can 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.

Changes in hearing

Cisplatin 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 usually get better after this treatment ends. But some can be permanent. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing. You may have a hearing test before you start treatment.

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.

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.

Skin changes

This treatment may affect your skin. It may cause a rash, or your skin may feel itchy. Rarely, it can cause your skin to look yellow. 

Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. 

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any changes to your skin. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Skin changes usually improve when treatment finishes.

Effects on the heartbeat

Cisplatin can cause fast, irregular or slow heartbeats. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes to your heartbeat. 

Rarely, cisplatin can cause more serious heart problems. 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.

Less common side effects

Eye problems

This treatment may cause blurry vision. Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have eye pain or notice any change in your vision.

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 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.

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: 

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 will advise you not to get pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Sex

It is possible that small amounts of chemotherapy may be passed on through vaginal fluids or semen. If you have sex in the first few days after 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.

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Date reviewed

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

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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