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Your doctor has explained that you have bladder cancer and has recommended treatment with chemotherapy drugs called Methotrexate, Vinblastine, Doxorubicin and Cisplatin. Treatment is given as slow injections and a drip into a vein in your arm usually as an outpatient.  However, some oncology departments find it more convenient to admit people over night to give the cisplatin, as this is given with a lot of fluids and a drug (diuretic) to make you pass a lot of water. This protects the kidneys. The schedule is as follows:-

Day 1-2 Day - 14
Methotrexate Start again
Vinblastine
Adriamycin
Cisplatin

Before each course of chemotherapy you will see a doctor and have a blood test. Because this regimen is given two weekly it is given with growth factors which speed up the recovery of your white cells (these injections can cause some aches in the bones for a few days each cycle). If your blood count is very low then chemotherapy may also be delayed a few days. We have outlined side-effects which you may experience during treatment. It is important that you feel free to ask questions so that you understand what to expect and what to do. Occasionally people have rare side-effects which are not expected or mentioned on this sheet. If in doubt ask!

Side effects

Nausea & sickness; Despite the anti-sickness medication given with your chemotherapy and for a few days afterwards, some nausea may occur. This is usually associated with reduced appetite and in some cases vomiting. If marked you should contact the cancer unit for help as its important you do not get dehydrated. Some cancer units prescribe anti-sickness suppository to take home and should be used if sickness occurs. In general, anti-sickness tablets should be taken regularly and are usually successful, but if you do have problems, different  tablets can be prescribed for the next cycle. Some self help tips may also be useful.

If your blood counts falls you may experience the following:

Other advice on paracetamol; As mentioned above, if you have a temperature and feel unwell you may have an infection and may need treatment in hospital, we advise not to take paracetamol in this situation as it may mask your temperature, give false reassurance and delay you presenting to hospital for treatment. Taking paracetamol can otherwise be used with discretion. If for example you have a headache or a mild pain but are otherwise feel well and your temperature is normal paracetamol can be used provided you check your temperature before each dose and allow a full six hours before each administration.

Fatigue; All chemotherapy can cause fatigue. As your treatment progresses you will experience this. You may find that gentle exercise such as a short walk each day (if you are not working) may help.  Fatigue and malaise may last up to 2-3 months (or longer) after the end of chemotherapy. 

Weight gain; Over the entire course of chemotherapy many patients complain of weight gain. This is caused by a combination of the steroids increasing the appetite, the fatigue causing lack of mobility and the mild nausea often encouraging to nibble rather than eating correct meals - In order to prevent this we recommend regular light exercise and be aware of your calorie intake.

Weight loss may also be experienced by some patients during their course of chemotherapy particularly if there is more advances disease or other medical problems, in these cases dietary advice should be sought.

Hair loss; This chemotherapy does cause hair loss. It usually starts 3-4 weeks after the first course and may be lost completely. You may also experience thinning and loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair. This is temporary and your hair will regrow after treatment, although it may at first be a different texture, very like a baby's hair. Some departments use a cold cap system to minimise hair loss. Your clinic nurse can arrange for you to have a wig before your treatment starts (NHS prescription charge, prices are approximately 55 for an acrylic wig, 140 for half real hair wig and  205 for a full real hair wig).  

Sore mouth; You may have a sore mouth after chemotherapy and it is important that you maintain good oral hygiene. A soft, baby toothbrush may help and you may be given a mouthwash. If you develop mouth ulcers you should contact your clinic and they can prescribe special mouthwashes to help. 

Fertility may be affected by chemotherapy, in both men and women.  It is important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment. For pre-menopausal women, chemotherapy may affect your periods. They may become heavier, lighter or may stop. In some women this may be permanent causing menopausal symptoms.   You should not become pregnant during chemotherapy, as chemotherapy will damage a growing baby. You should still take contraceptive precautions even if your periods have stopped, as you could still become pregnant. 

Constipation: Some patients experience constipation which may be due to the anti-sickness tablets. You should drink plenty of fluids, eat a high fibre diet and take gentle exercise. If this is severe you should contact your clinic or GP. 

Steroids; This chemotherapy is given with steroids (e.g. Dexamethasone) to help prevent sickness. Steroids have some side effects, including fluid retention, weight gain, wakefulness and sometimes agitation. If you suffer from  indigestion you may be given tablets to prevent this. If patients are prone to "spots" or acne this can be made worse. Likewise they can temporarily upset diabetes or high blood pressure.

Heart damage; Very rarely Adriamycin can damage the heart. A heart (cardiac) function test may be performed before or during chemotherapy. The risks are very small provided the recommended maximum dose of Adriamycin is not exceeded. To ease the strain on the heart, if you smoke, it is strongly recommended that you stop smoking.  

Red urine; The Adriamycin injection is coloured red. You may notice that the first time you pass urine after chemotherapy that it is coloured red - this is normal.

 
You may also experience an alteration in your taste, food may taste slightly more salty, bitter or metallic. Normal taste will return once your treatment has finished, but may take several months.

Altered sensation; This chemotherapy can irritate the nerve endings and some people notice altered sensation with slight numbness or pins and needles in the fingers or toes. This comes on slowly, is usually mild and will usually get better slowly after chemotherapy has finished. If the numbness is severe it may interfere with fine movement  (e.g. fastening buttons). If you develop sudden numbness or weakness this should always be reported immediately.


This chemotherapy can rarely damage the hearing - if you develop any hearing difficulties and particularly ringing in the ears, please inform your clinician before your next cycle of chemotherapy.

This chemotherapy can interfere with the function of your kidneys. This will be monitored with blood tests before each cycle, and often a more sensitive test before the start of chemotherapy.

You may find your eyes become more sensitive to the light and that they start "watering". If this occurs your clinic may prescribe you some eye drops.

 

Your veins Three types of damage can occur, listed in order of seriousness:

Increase risk of blood clots - during chemotherapy there is an increased risk of blood clots, most commonly in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) or more seriously to the lungs (pulmonary embolus). If you get unexplained swelling and discomfort in the calf report this to the oncology unit. Likewise if you start experiencing unexplained breathlessness, cough up any blood or have a pain in the chest particularly when you breath contact the clinic as soon as possible. To avoid clots its important to stay as active as possible and (exercise & chemotherapy) taking light walks two to three times a day and avoid sitting around for long periods of time. If you are required to sit (for example while receiving the chemotherapy drugs) try to move your legs and ankles regularly. Occasionally, if your doctor feels you are at high risk of developing clots you may be started on drugs to thin your blood during chemotherapy.  

Sore eyes; The front of the eyes (cornea) can occasionally feel dry and sticky, especially first thing in the morning. This usually comes on later in the course and can cause some redness and discomfort. Eye drops such artificial tears can be bought over the counter or prescribed by your medical team. 

Nails; The grow of the nails can be impaired by chemotherapy. The amount of damage can vary but in most case there will be some slight discolouration and indentation seen in ridges across the nail beds - a bit like the rings of a tree, each representing an individual chemotherapy cycle. Occasionally the damage can be more troublesome, causing pain and breakdown of the nail bed causing it to lift and separate, possibly even leading to a total loss of the nail. Eventually after chemotherapy has finished the nail will grow back normally.

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.



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