Bortezomib, cyclophosphamide, and dexamethasone (VCD)

VCD is the name of a cancer drug combination and is a treatment for myeloma.

What is VCD?

VCD is the name of a combination of cancer drugs that includes:

  • bortezomib (Velcade)
  • cyclophosphamide
  • dexamethasone

It is a treatment for myeloma.

How does VCD work?

Bortezomib is a type of cancer treatment drug called a proteasome inhibitor. Proteasomes are found in cells. They help to break down proteins that the cell doesn't need. Bortezomib blocks the proteasomes so the proteins build up inside the cell. The cell then dies. 

Cyclophosphamide is a type of chemotherapy and works by destroying quickly dividing cells, such as cancer cells.

Dexamethasone is a steroid. It works by helping to kill myeloma cells.

How do you have VCD?

You have bortezomib as an injection under the skin.

You have dexamethasone and cyclophosphamide as tablets. 

Injection under the skin

You usually have injections under the skin (subcutaneous injection) into the stomach or thigh.

You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection but they don't usually hurt much. The skin in the area may go red and itchy for a while.

Taking your tablets

You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Swallow cyclophosphamide tablets whole with plenty of water and do not chew or crush them.

Taking dexamethasone tablets in the morning after breakfast might help with difficulty sleeping (insomnia). It might also protect your stomach from irritation.

How often do you have VCD?

You have VCD as cycles of treatment. A cycle is the time between one round of treatment until the start of the next. After each round of treatment you have a break, to allow your body to recover. 

There are different ways of having VCD. Your doctor plans how much treatment you need and how often you have it depending on your individual situation.

Tests

You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

What are the side effects of VCD?

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your doctor if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons. 

Pain in your muscles or nerves 

You might feel some pain in your muscles or bones. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.

You might also have pain in the hands and feet due to nerve damage. This is called neuralgia.

Constipation

Constipation is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are constipated for more than 3 days. They can prescribe a laxative.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.

Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.

Lowered appetite

You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

Feeling or being sick 

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) during and after treatment 

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) can happen during and after treatment - doing gentle exercises each day can keep your energy up. Don't push yourself, rest when you start to feel tired and ask others for help.

Breathlessness and looking pale 

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Bruising, bleeding gums or nosebleeds

This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).

Rarely you might see some blood in your sick.

Increased risk of getting an infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

Hair loss

You could lose some or all your hair. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair. Your hair will usually grow back once treatment has finished but it is likely to be softer. It may grow back a different colour or be curlier than before. 

Inflammation of the bladder 

You might feel that you have to pass urine more often than usual. And you may have a burning feeling when you do. Or you might feel that you can't wait when you need to go. This is called cystitis. 

It helps to drink plenty of fluids. Some people think that cranberry juice can help but others feel it makes the soreness worse. Research studies haven't found that it helps. 

You might find that some drinks increase the soreness, such as tea and coffee. You can experiment for yourself and see what works for you.

Don't take any over the counter medicines for cystitis without talking to your treatment team as they could be harmful.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have soreness. They can prescribe medicines to help.

Kidney problems 

To help prevent kidney damage, it is important to drink plenty of water. You might also have fluids into your vein before, during and after treatment. You have blood tests before your treatments to check how well your kidneys are working.

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • breathlessness and cough
  • blood pressure changes - you might feel faint, lightheaded or have headaches
  • eyesight changes such as discharge from the eye, eye pain, excessive tears, swelling of the eyes, or bleeding in the eye
  • taste changes
  • weight loss
  • indigestion or heartburn
  • fluid build up in different parts of the body (oedema)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • changes in mood and much less commonly you may feel confused, anxious, imagine something that doesn’t exist (hallucinating), or unable to stay still
  • lack of fluid in the body (dehydration)
  • sore mouth, throat and ulcers
  • bleeding in the stomach or bowel
  • changes to how your liver works. Rarely you might get yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice).
  • cramps, twitching (spasms) or weakness in your muscles
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fainting (passing out)
  • changes in levels of minerals and salts in your body - you will have regular blood tests to check for this
  • tummy (abdominal) pain or bloating
  • skin changes such as dry skin, rash, reddening or itching
  • changes in blood sugar levels
  • the feeling of the room spinning or moving around you (vertigo)
  • wind
  • generally feeling unwell (malaise)

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (less than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • allergic reaction - this may happen during treatment, causing a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills. Tell your nurse or doctor immediately if at any time you feel unwell.
  • heart problems such as a change in heart rhythm, changes to how well the heart works, fluid around the heart or enlargement of the heart
  • changes of levels of chemicals in your blood due to the breakdown of tumour cells (tumour lysis syndrome) - you have regular blood tests to check for this
  • hiccups
  • blood clots that can be life threatening; signs are pain, redness and swelling where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot in the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • hearing changes that can cause pain and discomfort as well as hearing loss or ringing in your ears (tinnitus). This is usually temporary.
  • stroke
  • difficulty concentrating
  • high or low levels of thyroid hormones
  • pain, bleeding and inflammation at the injection site
  • runny nose
  • sudden reddening and warmth of the neck, upper chest and face (flushing)
  • a second cancer some years after treatment has finished
  • a blood disorder called haemolytic anaemia
  • inflammation of your blood vessels. Symptoms can vary depending on which blood vessels are affected. General symptoms include feeling very tired, loss of appetite, weight loss, a high temperature, and aches and pains (vasculitis).
  • small blood clots in the blood vessels inside the kidney (haemolytic uremic syndrome) - symptoms can include bloody diarrhoea, weakness, high temperature or being sick
  • reactivation of a virus you’ve had in the past – this might cause symptoms such as shingles. You might take tablets to prevent this.

Other side effects

If you have side effects that aren't listed on this page, you can look at the individual drug pages:

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do I need to know?

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Alcohol

Your doctor may tell you not to drink alcohol while having cyclophosphamide as a tablet. Alcohol might change the way this drug works and may increase your chances of feeling or being sick (nausea and vomiting).

Pregnancy and contraception 

This treatment may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you're having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Loss of fertility 

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with these drugs. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.    

Breastfeeding 

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drugs may come through in your breast milk.

Treatment for other conditions 

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.

You can have:

  • other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • the flu vaccine (as an injection)
  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment

Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your immune system Open a glossary item recovers from treatment.

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Last reviewed: 
26 Oct 2021
Next review due: 
26 Oct 2024
  • Electronic medicines compendium 

    Accessed August 2020

  • Immunisation against infectious disease: Chapter 6: General contraindications to vaccination
    Public Health England
    First published: March 2013 and regularly updated on the Gov.UK website

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