CTD comes from the initials of the drugs used:
- C – cyclophosphamide (a chemotherapy drug)
- T – thalidomide (an immunotherapy drug)
- D – dexamethasone (a steroid)
Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.
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 for you to have treatment.
You will see a doctor or nurse before you have treatment. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your treatment. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your course of CTD
CTD comes in capsules and tablets. You can take it at home.
cyclophosphamide and dexamethasone come as tablets
thalidomide comes as capsules
Cancer treatment is usually given as a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. A cycle of CTD is usually given over 21 days (3 weeks) or 28 days (4 weeks). Your nurse or doctor will tell you which cycle you are going to have.
You take cyclophosphamide on days 1, 8 and 15.
You take thalidomide for the whole 21 days.
You take dexamethasone on days 1 to 4 and 12 to 15.
You take cyclophosphamide on days 1, 8, 15, and 22.
You take thalidomide for the whole 28 days.
You take dexamethasone on days 1 to 4 and 15 to 18.
Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you. They may give you a copy of the treatment plan to take home with you.
The nurse or pharmacist will give you the capsules and tablets to take home. You may be given capsules and tablets of different strengths.
Your nurse or pharmacist may also give you anti-sickness drugs and other medicines to take home. Take all your capsules and tablets exactly the way you have been told to.
You should swallow all the tablets and capsules 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 exactly as explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you.
It is important to take dexamethasone with or just after breakfast. Take thalidomide at bedtime, as it can make you feel sleepy.
During treatment with cyclophosphamide you should avoid grapefruit and grape-fruit juice. This is because it can affect how cyclophosphamide works.
If you forget to take the cyclophosphamide or dexamethasone you should take the missed dose as soon as possible within the same day. If it has been a full day, tell your doctor or nurse.
If you forget to take the thalidomide and less than 12 hours have passed, take your capsules straight away. If more than 12 hours have passed, do not take your missed dose. Just take your usual dose at the usual time the next day. Tell your doctor or nurse.
Do not take a double dose unless your doctor tells you to.
Other things to remember about your capsules and tablets:
- 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.
- If you are sick (vomit) just after taking the capsules or tablets, contact the hospital. Do not take another dose.
- If your treatment is stopped, return any unused capsules or tablets to the pharmacist.
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) for more detailed information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tummy pain or indigestion
Steroids can irritate the stomach lining. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have pain in your tummy (abdomen) or indigestion. They can give you drugs to help reduce stomach irritation. Take your tablets with food to help protect your stomach.
Steroids can make you feel more hungry than usual and you may gain weight. Your appetite will go back to normal when you stop taking them. If you are worried about gaining weight, talk to your doctor or nurse.
Raised blood sugar levels
Steroids can raise your blood sugar levels. Your nurse will check your blood regularly for this. They may also test your urine for sugar. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include:
- feeling thirsty
- needing to pass urine more often
- feeling tired.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this. You may need to adjust your insulin or tablet dose.
Mood and behaviour changes
Steroids can affect your mood. You may feel anxious or restless, and have mood swings or problems sleeping. Taking your steroids in the morning may help you sleep better at night.
If you have any of these side effects, tell your doctor or nurse. They may make some changes to your treatment. It is best not to drive or operate machinery if you feel like this.
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.
Feeling tired is a common side effect. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it has finished. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. If you feel sleepy, do not drive or operate machinery.
Thalidomide may cause you to feel drowsy (very sleepy). Do not drink alcohol while you are taking thalidomide. This is because alcohol can make you sleepy and thalidomide can make you even sleepier.
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.
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.
If you have diarrhoea, contact the hospital for advice. Try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids every day. It can help to avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.
CTD 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. CTD can cause a rash, which may be itchy.
Sometimes, thalidomide can cause a more serious skin rash that blisters. Let your doctor know straight away if this happens.
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 to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.
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.
Build-up of fluid
Your ankles and legs may swell because of fluid building up. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. They may give you medicines that can help. If the swelling is uncomfortable, they may also give you support stockings. It can also help to put your legs up on a foot stool or cushion. The swelling will usually get better when treatment finishes.
Cyclophosphamide may irritate your bladder and cause discomfort when you pass urine. Drink at least two litres (3½ pints) of fluids during the 24 hours following chemotherapy. It is also important to empty your bladder regularly and to try to pass urine as soon as you feel the need to go.
Contact the hospital straight away if you feel any discomfort or stinging when you pass urine, or if you notice any blood in it.
Low blood pressure
Thalidomide can cause a temporary fall in your blood pressure. This can make you feel dizzy for a few moments if you stand up quickly. It can help to move slowly from lying to sitting and from sitting to standing.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ever had problems with your blood pressure.
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.
Effects on the lungs
This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor if you develop:
- a cough
- a fever (high temperature)
You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.
You may notice your vision is blurry during treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice this. Do not drive if your vision is affected.
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. You will have blood tests before chemotherapy to check how well your kidneys and liver are working.
You must take part in a pregnancy prevention programme while taking thalidomide. Your doctor will give you information about not becoming pregnant or making someone pregnant during and after treatment with thalidomide. This is because thalidomide can cause birth defects in developing babies. Both men and women taking thalidomide can pass this risk on to an unborn child.
Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you some written information about the risks of thalidomide and the best ways to prevent pregnancy. They will ask you to sign a consent form once you have read the information.
Women taking thalidomide
If you have not yet had your menopause you will have a pregnancy test before starting treatment with thalidomide. This will be repeated every 4 weeks during treatment. You will also have a pregnancy test 4 weeks after treatment finishes.
You must use an effective form of contraception, such as:
- an implant
- or a progesterone-only oral pill.
The combined oral contraceptive pill is not recommended because it increases your risk of developing blood clots. You must use contraception for 4 weeks before treatment, during treatment, and for 4 weeks after treatment finishes. If you think you may be pregnant at any time during your treatment, contact your doctor or specialist nurse straight away.
Men taking thalidomide
You must use a condom during sex while taking thalidomide and for 1 week after treatment finishes. This is to protect your partner from thalidomide, which can pass into your semen.
If your partner thinks they might be pregnant during your treatment, contact your doctor or specialist nurse straight away.
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.
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.