PCV

PCV is a combination of the chemotherapy drugs procarbazine, lomustine (CCNU) and vincristine. It is used to treat brain tumours.

What is PCV?

PCV is used to treat brain tumours. It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.

PCV comes from the initials of the drugs used:

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

How PCV is given

You will have PCV in the chemotherapy day unit. 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 drugs before the vincristine. Vincristine 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).

You take lomustine and procarbazine as capsules.

Your course of chemotherapy

You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of PCV takes 42 days (6 weeks):

  • Usually you have the vincristine and lomustine on day 1.
  • You start the procarbazine capsules on day 1 or day 2. You take these for 10 days.
  • You then have a rest period with no treatment for 32 days. This completes your first cycle of PCV.

At the end of your rest period you start your second cycle of PCV. This is exactly the same as your first cycle.

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

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.

Taking lomustine and procarbazine capsules

Lomustine and procarbazine capsules must be swallowed whole with a glass of water. They should not be chewed, opened or crushed.

You take lomustine on day 1. You take procarbazine for 10 days starting on day 1 or 2. Take them at the same time every day.

It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you.

If you forget to take the procarbazine, you should take the missed dose as soon as possible, unless your next dose is due within 2 hours. In this case, you should skip the missed dose and continue with your regular schedule. Always let your doctor know if you have missed a dose. Do not take a double dose unless your doctor tells you to.

Other things to remember about your capsules:

  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling your capsules.
  • Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
  • 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.

About side effects

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.

More information

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.

Side effects while 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
  • a skin rash
  • itching
  • shivering
  • feeling dizzy
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless
  • swelling of your face or mouth
  • pain in your back, tummy or chest.

If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell your doctor or nurse 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 of a reaction or feel unwell, contact the hospital straight away.

The drug leaks outside the vein

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

If you get any of the symptoms after you get home, contact the doctor or nurse straight away on the contact number they gave you.

Flu-like symptoms

Procarbazine may cause flu-like symptoms:

  • feeling hot or cold
  • feeling shivery
  • headaches
  • aching joints or muscles.

You may have these symptoms several hours after you take procarbazine. Your nurse may advise you to take paracetamol. Drinking plenty of fluids will also help. If the symptoms are severe or do not get better after 24 hours, contact the hospital.

Common side effects

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
  • diarrhoea
  • 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.

The doctor may also reduce:

  • the dose of the drugs
  • the length of time you take the procarbazine for the next cycle of treatment.

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:

  • nosebleeds
  • 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.

Feeling sick

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 do not 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.

Feeling tired

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.

Problems passing urine (peeing)

If you feel like you are passing urine more or less than usual, or if you have pain when you pass urine, contact the hospital straight away.

Hair loss

Your hair may get thinner but you are unlikely to lose all the hair from your head. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment. It is almost always temporary and your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends. Your nurse can talk to you about ways to cope with hair loss.

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.

Constipation

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.

Jaw pain

Vincristine may cause pain in your jaw. Tell your nurse or doctor if you notice this.

Muscle or joint pain

You may get pain in your muscles or joints. If this happens, tell your doctor so they can give you give you painkillers. Tell them if the pain does not get better. Having warm baths and taking regular rests may help.

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 to check how well your kidneys and liver are working.

It is important to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day to help protect your kidneys.

Sore mouth

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.

Skin changes

Procarbazine can cause a rash. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day.

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.

Less common side effects

Effects on the nervous system

PCV can affect the nervous system. You may

  • have pins and needles
  • have tingling in your arms and legs
  • feel drowsy or confused
  • feel dizzy or unsteady.

Rarely, PCV can cause you to have seizures (fits). Your doctor can prescribe drugs to stop fits. They will explain more about this.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. They may make some changes to your treatment if they become a problem for you. It is important not to drive or operate machinery if you notice these effects.

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 usually get better after this treatment ends. But some can be permanent. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing.

Effects on the lungs

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

  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • a fever (high temperature)
  • breathlessness.

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

Eye problems

Rarely, vincristine may affect your vision. Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have eye pain or notice any changes to your vision.

Diarrhoea

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.

Second cancer

Procarbazine and lomustine can increase the risk of developing a second cancer years later. But the benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.

Other information

Effects of alcohol and some foods

Alcohol and some food can cause a reaction when you are taking procarbazine. They can make you feel sick and cause headaches, sweating, drowsiness and breathing problems. It is best to avoid:

  • alcohol
  • alcohol free beers and wines
  • mature cheeses
  • salami, pepperoni and bologna sausage
  • yeast or beef extracts (Oxo®, Marmite® and Bovril®)
  • over-ripe fruit
  • any pickled, fermented, smoked and matured foods

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you more advice on foods to avoid.

Coeliac disease or wheat allergy

Lomustine capsules contain wheat. If you have coeliac disease or a wheat allergy, let your doctor know before taking the capsules.

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
  • breathlessness
  • 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.

Other medicines

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.

Vaccinations

Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about vaccinations. These help reduce your risk of getting infections.

Doctors usually recommend that you have a flu jab, which is an inactivated vaccination. People with weak immune systems can have this type of vaccination.

If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations such as shingles. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live vaccinations.

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.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone 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

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.

Breastfeeding

Women are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

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.

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