What is Pola-BR?

Pola-BR is used to treat a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapytargeted therapy and the type of cancer you have.

Pola-BR is named after the initials of the drugs used:

  • Pola – polatuzumab vedotin (Polivy®) is a combination of a targeted therapy drug and a chemotherapy drug. The targeted therapy delivers the chemotherapy drug to B-cells. The chemotherapy drug damages these cells. 
  • B – bendamustine is a chemotherapy drug.
  • R – rituximab is a targeted therapy drug that triggers the body’s immune system to attack and destroy B-cells.

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 Pola-BR is given

You will be given Pola-BR in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.

During a course of 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 it is safe for you to have chemotherapy. 

You will speak to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist before you have Pola-BR. 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 drugs. 

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before Pola-BR. You may have the Pola-BR 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
  • 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.

The nurse will give you each drug as a drip (infusion). They will run the drip through a pump, which will give you the treatment over a set time. 

Your first treatment of Pola-BR is usually given over 2 or 3 days. For example, you may have:

  • rituximab on day 1 
  • polatuzumab vedotin on day 2
  • bendamustine on day 1 and 2 or on day 2 and 3.

Bendamustine is given over 30 to 60 minutes. The first times you have rituximab and polatuzumab vedotin they are given slowly to make sure you do not have a reaction. Your next doses may be given over shorter periods of time, and you usually have:

  • rituximab, polatuzumab vedotin and bendamustine on day 1
  • another dose of bendamustine on day 2. 

Your course of chemotherapy

You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Each cycle of Pola-BR takes 21 days (3 weeks). You have treatment on day 1 to day 3. You then have a break with no treatment until day 21. 

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.

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 this treatment or shortly after they have it.

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction to these drugs while they are having them. This is most likely with rituximab or polatuzumab vedotin but sometimes happens with bendamustine. Before treatment, you will be given medicines to help prevent or reduce any reaction.

A reaction is most likely the first time you have the drug. This is why your first dose of rituximab and polatuzumab vedotin is given slowly over a few hours. 

Signs of a reaction can include: 

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • a skin rash
  • itching
  • shivering
  • 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 infusion. 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 develop any signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away.

Low blood pressure

Some people have low blood pressure while they are having rituximab. If you usually take medicine to lower your blood pressure, your doctor may ask you not to take it for 12 hours before having rituximab. Sometimes, rituximab can make your blood pressure go up. The nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

The drug leaks outside the vein

Sometimes drugs may leak outside the vein. This is called extravasation. If this happens with bendamustine it can damage the tissue around the vein. 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

This treatment may cause tummy (abdomen) pain. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens so they can help.

Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

This treatment may affect 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. You may notice walking or balance problems. 

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.

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 cause a rash. Sometimes the rash can be itchy. Tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They may prescribe creams or medicines to help.

Rarely, skin reactions can be more severe. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have if you:

  • develop a rash with individual spots that look like targets (darker in the middle and lighter on the outside)
  • have pain in your skin
  • notice blisters on your skin.

Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.

Effects on the liver

This treatment may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.

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.

Less common side effects

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.

Eye problems

This treatment may make your eyes feel sore, red and itchy. This is called conjunctivitis. Your doctor will prescribe eye drops to help. It is important to use these as explained.

Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have eye pain or notice any change in your vision.

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.

Hepatitis B reactivation

If you have had Hepatitis B (a liver infection) in the past, this treatment can make it active again. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this and may test you for Hepatitis B before, during, and after treatment.

Muscle or joint pain

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

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.

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.

Effects on the nervous system

Sometimes, this treatment can affect the nervous system. This can cause symptoms including:

  • headaches
  • problems with eyesight or speech
  • confusion or drowsiness
  • seizures (fits)
  • weakness in an arm, leg or the face muscles
  • problems with walking or movement.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. It is important not to drive or operate machinery if you notice these effects.

Other information

Irradiated blood products

After this treatment, any blood or platelet transfusions you have should first be treated with radiation (irradiated). This lowers the risk of the blood cells you are given reacting against your own. 

Irradiated blood is not radioactive and will not harm you or anyone you come into contact with.

Your doctor will write in your medical notes that you should be given irradiated blood products. They will also give you a card to carry in case you are treated at another hospital. Keep this card with you at all times. And remind your hospital team that you need irradiated blood or platelets.

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, 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. 

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.

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.

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 May 2023
|
Next review: 01 May 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.