Oxaliplatin is a type of chemotherapy drug. It is also called Eloxatin. It’s a treatment for bowel cancer and some other types of cancer.
You usually have oxaliplatin in combination with other chemotherapy drugs. It depends on the type of cancer you have as to which drugs you have it with.
How it works
Oxaliplatin interferes with the development of DNA in a cell. This stops it from dividing into 2 new cells and kills it.
How you have oxaliplatin chemotherapy
You have oxaliplatin as cycles of treatment. Your treatment plan depends on whether you are having oxaliplatin on its own or with other chemotherapy drugs.
You have oxaliplatin as a drip into your bloodstream (intravenously). Each treatment takes between 2 and 6 hours.
You can have it through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm each time you have your treatment.
You can also have it through a long line - either a central line, a PICC line or a portacath.
These are long, plastic tubes that give the drugs into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.
When you have treatment
You could have oxaliplatin every 2 or 3 weeks. Each 2 or 3 week period is a cycle of treatment.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
Tiredness and weakness
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.
Numbness and 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.
Loss of 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.
Diarrhoea or constipation
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diarrhoea or constipation. They can give you medicine to help.
Mouth sores and ulcers
Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids, avoid acidic foods such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits, and chew gum to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.
You could lose 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 and pain at your drip site
When you're having treatment into your bloodstream tell your nurse straight away if you have any redness, swelling, pain or leaking at your drip site.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you keep getting headaches. They can give you painkillers to help.
Changes to the way your liver works
You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.
You may gain weight while having this treatment. You may be able to control it with diet and exercise. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are finding it difficult to control your weight.
Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually returns to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.
You might develop a cough or breathing problems. This could be due to infection, such as pneumonia or inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis). Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you suddenly become breathless or develop a cough.
Tummy (abdominal) pain
Tell your treatment team if you have this. They can check the cause and give you medicine to help.
You might notice skin changes, such as dryness, itching and rashes similar to acne on your face, neck and trunk.
Tell your doctor if you have any rashes or itching. Don't go swimming if you have a rash because the chlorine in the water can make it worse.
If your skin gets dry or itchy, using unperfumed moisturising cream may help. Check with your doctor or nurse before using any creams or lotions. Wear a high factor sun block if you’re going out in the sun.
This treatment can cause pain in your muscles, bones or where the tumour site is. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have it so that they can give you painkillers.
Changes to the level of sugar (glucose), potassium and sodium in your blood
The level of glucose and sodium in your blood might increase and the level of potassium might decrease. You have regular blood tests during treatment to check this.
Fever and rigors
You might get a high temperature (fever) with a sudden feeling of being cold, shivering and sweating (rigor). Contact your health advice line, doctor or nurse know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.
A reaction may happen during the infusion, causing a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills. Your nurse will give you medicines beforehand to try to prevent a reaction.
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:
- difficulty swallowing or breathing - this can be triggered by cold air in the first 5 days of having oxaliplatin and it usually clears up by itself
- changes to how your kidneys work - you have regular blood tests to make sure they are working okay
- indigestion and heartburn - ask your doctor or nurse for anti heartburn medicines if you need them
- blood in your urine or poo - tell your doctor or nurse if you see this
- high blood pressure - tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches or changes to your eyesight, your blood pressure is checked regularly while having this drug
- mood changes - you might be depressed tell your doctor or nurse if you are
- sleep changes - you might find it more difficult to get to sleep
- eye problems - this includes problems with your vision and watery, red and itchy eyes (conjunctivitis)
- brittle, chipped and ridged nails
- runny nose
- bleeding from your gut or back passage (rectum)
- problems passing urine
- weight loss
- damage to the nerves that control your muscles causing weakness, cramping or twitching
- a have a temperature that is 36 degrees centigrade or below, or is 37.5 degrees and above with a low number of white cells, this might be an infection that can be serious - contact your health advice line
- inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges) causing symptoms similar to meningitis (stiff neck, unable to look at bright light and headache)
- a decrease amount of calcium in the blood - you have regular blood tests to check this
- not enough fluid in your body (dehydration) make sure you drink plenty
- infection of the nose, throat or upper chest
- an increase in sweating
- reddening of the skin (flushing)
- blood clots that are life threatening; signs are pain, swelling and redness where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot on the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
Rare side effects
These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- hearing problems
- slowing of the gut
- blockage of the gut
- an imbalance of chemicals in your body that affects the pH of the blood
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, food 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.
Loss of fertility
You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. 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.
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 are having treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Women must not become pregnant for at least 4 months after the end of treatment. Men should not father a child for at least 6 months after treatment.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through into 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.
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
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.