Vincristine is a chemotherapy drug used to treat many different types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, breast cancer, head and neck cancers, and soft tissue sarcomas.
HOW IS VINCRISTINE ADMINISTERED?
You will be given vincristine in the chemotherapy day unit or during a hospital stay. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.
Before the day of treatment, a nurse will take a blood sample from you to see if you are fit for chemotherapy.
You will also be able to see a doctor or nurse before having chemotherapy. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If the results of your blood test are good on the day of your treatment, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will give you medication for nausea and, sometimes, steroids administered intravenously. Chemotherapy drugs may be given in the following ways:
- Through a thin tube (line) inserted into a vein in the arm or hand by a nurse
- Through a tube that goes below the skin of your chest to a nearby vein (central line)
- Through a thin tube that is placed in a vein of the arm and goes up through a vein toward the chest (PICC)
Your nurse may give you vincristine as a direct injection into your cannula or line. Alternativelely, it can be given as a drip for 5-10 minutes. You may have fluids administered through a drip before and after receiving vincristine.
Some people may have side effects while they are receiving chemotherapy.
On rare occasions, vincristine can cause allergic reactions while it is being administered. The signs of a reaction may include the following: rash, itchiness, breathlessness; swelling in the face or lips; nausea; pain in the abdomen, back, or chest; or feeling unwell. Tell your nurse immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
DRUG LEAKAGE OUTSIDE THE VEIN
If this happens when you are receiving vincristine, it can damage the tissue surrounding the vein. This is called extravasation. Inform the nurse immediately if you have stinging, pain, redness, or swelling around the vein. Extravasation is not common, but if it happens it is important that it be treated quickly.
If you have any of these symptoms after you get home, contact your doctor or nurse immediately.
YOUR CHEMOTHERAPY CYCLE
You will have chemotherapy as part of a course or cycle, consisting of several treatment sessions and lasting several months. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how many cycles you are likely to have.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS OF VINCRISTINE
You may experience some of the side effects mentioned here, though it is rare for a patient to have all of them. If you receive other chemotherapy drugs, you may have other side effects that are not mentioned here. Always inform your doctor of the effects you experience.
Your doctor can prescribe medication to help control some of the side effects. It is very important to take the medication exactly as your doctor says for it to have the highest chance of working well. Your nurse will advise you on managing the side effects. After treatment, the side effects start to get better.
RISK OF INFECTION
Vincristine may lower the number of white blood cells in your blood. This will make you more susceptible to infection. Your nurse can tell you when you might have the lowest levels of these cells. When the number of white blood cells is low, this is called neutropenia.
Contact your hospital immediately if any of the following happens:
- your temperature goes above 38 ° C
- you suddenly feel unwell, even if your temperature is normal.
- You have symptoms of infection, which may include sore throat, coughing, or the need to urinate frequently.
The number of white blood cells normally increases gradually, returning to normal before your next chemotherapy session. You will have a blood test before your next chemotherapy. If your white blood cells are still low, your doctor may postpone the treatment for a short period of time.
BRUISING AND BLEEDING
Vincristine may lower the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor if you have any unexplained bleeding or bruising. This includes nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots, or skin eruptions (rashes). Some people may require additional platelets.
Vincristine may lower the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. If you have a low number of red blood cells, you may be tired and short of breath. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this. If you are very anemic, it's possible you will require a blood transfusion.
Vincristine can cause constipation and abdominal pain. Drinking at least two liters of fluids each day will help if this is the case. Try to eat more high-fiber foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain bread and get some light exercise.
If you have not had a bowel movement in two days, contact your hospital for advice. Your doctor can prescribe laxatives to help with this.
Your doctor can prescribe medicines to control diarrhea. Let them know if your diarrhea is severe or if it doesn't get better. Make sure you drink at least two liters of fluids each day if you have diarrhea.
If you are urinating more or less than normal, or if you have pain when urinating, get in touch with your hospital immediately.
This can happen on the first few days after chemotherapy. Your doctor will prescribe you antiemetic drugs to help prevent or control your nausea. It is easier to prevent nausea than it is to treat it once it has begun.
If you still have nausea or are vomiting, get in touch with the hospital as soon as possible. They can give you advice and change your medication to one that works better.
LOSS OF APPETITE
You may lose your appetite during the treatment. Try to eat in small quantities and have frequent meals. Don't worry if you don't eat much for a day or two. If your appetite doesn't get any better after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They can give you nutritional supplements or good-tasting meal-replacement drinks.
Feeling very tired is a common side effect. Fatigue is often worst toward the end of treatment and for a few months after the treatment has finished. Try to pace yourself and rest as much as you need to. Help balance this with a bit of light exercise, such as short walks. If you feel drowsy, don't drive or operate heavy machinery.
TINGLING IN THE HANDS OR FEET
These symptoms are caused by the effect of vincristine on the nerves. It is called peripheral neuropathy. It may also be hard for you to press buttons and it can make other tasks more uncomfortable. You may also feel a certain degree of pain at your nerve endings.
Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. It is sometimes necessary to lower the drug dose. The symptoms normally get better slowly once the treatment is over, though in some people they never go away. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
SORENESS OF THE MOUTH
You may have a sore mouth or mouth ulcers, which could make you more prone to getting a mouth infection. Lightly brush your teeth and/or dentures in the morning and night and after meals. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush. Your nurse might ask you to rinse your mouth out regularly or use mouthwash. It is important that you follow all the instructions you are given and that you drink a lot of fluids.
Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any mouth problems. They can prescribe you drugs to prevent or treat infections of the mouth and to treat any kind of pain.
Chemotherapy can affect your skin. Vincristine can produce a rash, which may cause itchiness. If your skin is dry, try to use a fragrance-free moisturizing cream every day. Always tell your doctor about any change to your skin. These changes can be temporary, improving once the treatment is over.
Your hair may thin out, though it is unlikely you will lose all of the hair on your head. Hair loss normally starts after your first or second cycle of chemotherapy. It is almost always temporary, and the hair will continue to grow after you finish your treatment. Your nurse can give you advice on how to cope with losing your hair.
CHANGES IN HEARING
Some people may notice a slight loss or hearing or deafness. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes.
CHANGES IN THE LIVER
This treatment can affect the functioning of your liver. These changes are normally mild and return to normal after the treatment. You will have periodic blood tests done to see how your liver is working.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches. They can give you painkillers for this.
Vincristine can cause pain in your jaw. Let your doctor or nurse know if this happens.
MUSCLE AND/OR JOINT PAIN
You may have pain in your joints or muscles for a few days after chemotherapy. Tell your doctor if this happens so they can prescribe you some painkillers. Let them know if your pain doesn't go away. Try to get lots of rest. Taking warm baths on a regular basis can help.
LESS COMMON SIDE EFFECTS OF VINCRISTINE
EFFECTS ON THE LUNGS
Vincristine can cause changes in the lungs. Always let your doctor know if you have wheezing, coughing, fever, or if you are out of breath. If necessary, tests can be done to check your lungs.
EFFECTS ON THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
Vincristine can affect the nervous system. You may feel dizzy or unsteady. Tell your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of these symptoms. They can make changes in your treatment if they become a problem for you. It is important not to drive or operate machinery if you notice these effects. In rare cases, this treatment can cause seizures.
In rare cases, vincristine can affect your vision. Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have soreness in the eyes or notice any changes in your vision.
It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you feel unwell or have severe side effects, even if these are not among those mentioned above.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT VINCRISTINE
BLOOD CLOT RISK
Cancer and chemotherapy increase the chances of a blood (thrombosis). The symptoms include pain, reddening or swelling in a leg, difficulty breathing, and pain in the chest. Get in touch with your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
Some medicines can interact with chemotherapy or be harmful if they are taken alongside chemotherapy. This includes medications that can be purchased in a store or pharmacy. Tell your doctor the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medications, complementary therapies, and herbal medicines.
Vincristine may affect your fertility. If this worries you, you can talk to your doctor before beginning treatment.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant during the treatment. This is because the drugs can harm developing babies. It is important to use contraception during chemotherapy and for a few months after the treatment ends.
If you have sex within the first few days after chemotherapy, it is necessary to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluid.
Women are recommended not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months after chemotherapy has concluded. This is in case the chemotherapy enters their breast milk.
MEDICAL AND DENTAL TREATMENT
If you have to go to the hospital for whatever reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having chemotherapy.
Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse if you think you need dental treatment. Always let your dentist know that you are having chemotherapy.