Folinic acid (leucovorin or calcium folinate)

Folinic acid (also called leucovorin or calcium folinate) is not a chemotherapy drug. You may have folinic acid with chemotherapy treatment to make the chemotherapy work better or to reduce side effects.

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

Folinic acid can be given into a vein or taken as tablets. You usually have it as an outpatient or during a hospital stay. Your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you how often you will have it.

All cancer treatments can cause side effects. Some of the side effects can be serious, so it is important to read the detailed information about the treatment you are having.

If you notice any side effects that you think may be related to your cancer treatment, tell your doctor, chemotherapy nurse or pharmacist.

If you need medical attention for any reason other than cancer, always tell the healthcare staff that you are having this treatment.

What is leucovorin?

Folinic acid (also called leucovorin or calcium folinate) is not a chemotherapy drug. It may be given along with the following chemotherapy drugs:

Folinic acid is often given with 5FU to treat cancers of the colon, rectum and other parts of the digestive system. It makes 5FU work better. It may also be given with tegafur-uracil which is a similar drug to 5FU.

Folinic acid is also sometimes given with methotrexate, which is used to treat different types of cancer. It is mainly used with higher doses of methotrexate to help reduce the side effects. This is sometimes called folinic acid rescue or leucovorin rescue.

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


How folinic acid is given

You will usually be given folinic acid in the chemotherapy day unit or during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you at the same time as your chemotherapy treatment.

During treatment you will 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 the chemotherapy part of the 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 drugs. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.

Your nurse will give you the folinic acid as a drip (infusion) or injection through one of the following:

  • a short thin tube that 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).

Folinic acid may also be given as tablets. Before you leave hospital, the nurse or pharmacist will give you the tablets to take at home. It is important to take your tablets exactly as explained. This is to make sure they work as well as possible for you.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone 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.

More information about this drug

You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.


Possible side effects

Side effects from folinic acid are rare. Sometimes you may have a high temperature (fever) after the drug has been given. Your doctor may prescribe some tablets to help with this.

Any side effects you have are likely to be related to the chemotherapy drugs. But if you notice any side effects that you think may be related to the folinic acid, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you feel ill or have any severe side effects during cancer treatment.


Other information about folinic acid

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect cancer treatment or be harmful when you are having it. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking, including vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.