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Etoposide 338

This leaflet provides information on a course of chemotherapy called etoposide.  The leaflet will explain what this is and when and how it is given.  It will also tell you about common side effects that you may experience.  Contact telephone numbers and details of how to obtain further information on etoposide are given at the end of the leaflet.

This leaflet should be read alongside the ‘General information for patients receiving chemotherapy leaflet.  If you haven’t received this leaflet then please ask your nurse for a copy.

What is etoposide chemotherapy?

Etoposide is a chemotherapy treatment which is given as capsules. 

Why am I having etoposide?

Your doctor has prescribed etoposide because it has been found to be effective in treating your type of cancer.

How often will I receive my etoposide?

For this treatment to be most effective it will be given at specific time intervals.  These are known as cycles.  A cycle of etoposide lasts for 3 weeks.  The cycle may be repeated several times.  Your doctor will discuss with you the exact number of cycles you will receive.  For your first cycle you will usually take the capsules twice a day for 5 days, and then have 16 days rest.  If you have very few side effects from the treatment your doctor may increase the number of days that you take etoposide in each cycle. This will be clearly labelled on the box. 

How often will I see the specialist team?

You will see the specialist team before each cycle.  You will have regular blood tests and we will check how you are feeling and discuss any problems you may have.  This is so we can check how the chemotherapy is affecting you.  If your blood results are satisfactory, your chemotherapy will be prescribed.

Can I bring relatives and friends with me? 

You are welcome to bring someone to stay with you during your treatment. Space is limited so there is not usually room for more than one person.  Treatment areas are not suitable for young children.

How should I take the etoposide capsules?

Etoposide capsules should be taken twice a day.  You should take the first capsule in the morning and the second capsule in the evening.  The amount you need to take will be clearly marked on the box.  

They should be taken on an empty stomach, so an hour before or two hours after eating.  The capsules should be swallowed whole with a glass of water.  They must not be chewed or crushed.  If you have any difficulty swallowing please speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice.  

It is important that you wash your hands thoroughly after handling your capsules.

How many capsules will I need to take?

The amount you need to take and for how many days will be clearly marked on the box.  Remember to check the box to see how many capsules you need to take.

What should I do if I forget to take my capsules?

  • If it’s within 2 hours of the normal time take them now.
  • If it’s more than 2 hours late, miss this dose.

What if I take too many capsules?

Please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

How should I store my etoposide capsules?

You should store your capsules in their original packaging in a safe place away from children.  They should be kept in a cool dry place (below 30oC).

Any unused capsules should be returned to the hospital Pharmacy or your local chemist for safe disposal. 

What are the possible side effects?

There are a number of possible side effects which can occur with etoposide chemotherapy.  The doctors, nurses and pharmacists can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.

Hair loss

You may experience hair thinning or hair loss, whilst taking Etoposide. Your hair will grow back once you stop taking Etoposide. We have a leaflet that tells you more about coping with hair loss.  Please ask your nurse if you would like a copy. 

Sickness and loss of appetite

Nausea and vomiting are uncommon these days as we will give you anti-sickness medicines which are usually extremely effective.  If you are sick more than once in 24 hours despite taking regular anti-sickness medicine, stop taking your etoposide capsules and contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet. 


You are at an increased risk of picking up infections because your white blood cells which help fight infections can be reduced by this treatment.  

If you develop an infection whilst your white blood cells are low, you are at risk of sepsis, this can be life threatening. 

Contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately if you develop any signs of infection, for example flu like symptoms or a temperature above 37.5°centigrade or below 35.5°centigrade.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Low blood counts

Etoposide can affect your blood count. Your bloods will be monitored in clinic. Occasionally, this may cause anaemia or increase your risk of bleeding.  If you notice unusual bruising or bleeding, please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately for advice. The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet. 


You may experience constipation. If this occurs, drink at least 2 litres of fluids /day, eat plenty fibre, and if you are still having problems with constipation, see your GP or ring the treatment helpline, the telephone number is at the end of the leaflet and inform your doctor when in clinic. 


Diarrhoea is not common with this chemotherapy.  However, if you have four or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Tiredness and fatigue

Chemotherapy can make you feel more tired than usual.  It is important to listen to your body and rest if you need to, but carry out your normal activities if you feel able.  Some people find it beneficial to take gentle exercise as well as rest.

Sore mouth

Your mouth may become sore or you may notice small ulcers.  Please follow the advice on caring for your mouth in the general chemotherapy leaflet.  Your doctor may prescribe mouthwashes or medication to prevent or clear any infection.

Other side effects

Etoposide can cause an itchy skin reaction and rash.  If this occurs please discuss with your doctor at your next clinic visit.

Some patients experience abdominal pain – inform your doctor if this occurs. 

We will monitor your bloods for your liver function, as Etoposide can affect the way your liver works.  

Sometimes Etoposide can cause dizziness and occasionally high blood pressure. Inform you doctor if you have experience these problems. 

Occasionally patients experience an altered heart rhythm, and rarely heart problems. If you experience palpitations or shortness of breath, ring the treatment helpline. However, if you experience any chest pain- ring 999. ( This is not a very common side-effect ) . 

Women sometimes find that chemotherapy treatment affects their periods.  They could become heavier, lighter or even stop altogether.  

It is important you do not become pregnant or father a child whilst having chemotherapy treatment as chemotherapy could damage the unborn baby. Breastfeeding is not recommended.  

Sometimes cancer drugs can have very serious side effects which rarely can be life threatening. It is important to inform Velindre cancer centre if you are concerned about any side-effects.  A diagnosis of cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having cancer treatment may increase this risk further.  It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in your leg, or breathlessness and chest pain.  

Blood clots can be very serious.  However, most clots can usually be successfully treated with drugs to thin the blood.  Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Manufacturer’s patient information leaflets

Velindre leaflets provide information about very common and commonly reported side-effects (we are unable to list all of the common side effects), for more information regarding these and the less common side-effects please refer to the manufacturers patient information leaflets, obtained from Velindre pharmacy and/or on the internet at Sometimes patients may find these leaflets difficult to read however. Please ask if you would like a copy from your doctor or from Velindre pharmacy

Contact telephone numbers

Velindre Cancer Centre 029 2061 5888

Ask for the treatment helpline if you are unwell at home and need immediate advice at any time of the day or night.  For example you should phone if you:

  • Are sick more than once in 24 hours
  • Have a temperature of 37.5°C or above or below 35.5°centigrade
  • Have 4 or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you
  • Have a very sore mouth 

Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223

Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines

Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010

This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.