This leaflet provides information on a course of chemotherapy known as irinotecan, 5 fluorouracil (5-FU) and folinic acid. It will explain what this is and when and how it will be 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 this chemotherapy are given at the end of the leaflet.
This leaflet should be read alongside the ‘General information for patients receiving chemotherapy’ folder. If you haven’t received this folder please ask your nurse for a copy.
What is irinotecan, 5-FU and folinic acid chemotherapy?
This chemotherapy treatment consists of three drugs. There are two chemotherapy drugs called irinotecan and 5-FU. The other drug is called folinic acid. This is not a chemotherapy drug but it helps the 5-FU work better.
We will also give you medicine called atropine. This is given as an injection. It prevents some of the side effects which can occur.
Together these drugs are called irinotecan and modified deGramont or IrMdG for short.
Why am I having IrMdG chemotherapy?
Your doctor has prescribed IrMdG because it has been found to be effective in treating your type of cancer.
How often will I receive my chemotherapy?
For the treatment to be most effective it is given at specific time intervals. These are known as cycles. It is usual to have a cycle of IrMdG every 2 weeks for up to 12 cycles. Your doctor will discuss with you the exact number of cycles you will receive.
How will my chemotherapy be given?
To receive your chemotherapy you will need to have a fine tube put into a large vein in your upper arm. This tube is called a PICC line. Your PICC line is usually put in about a week before you start your chemotherapy. It will stay in for the whole course of your treatment. Your doctor will explain this to you in more detail. We also have a leaflet that tells you more about PICC lines.
We will give you anti sickness medicine and the atropine injection. The irinotecan is given through a drip connected to your PICC line. This will take about 30 minutes. Then the folinic acid is given by a drip over 1 hour.
The 5-FU will be given to you in two parts:
How do I look after the portable pump?
We will tell you how your pump works and how to look after it. We will also give you written information.
How often will I need to come to the hospital?
To receive this chemotherapy you will need to visit the hospital 3 times in every 2 week cycle.
1st visit - Outpatient clinic appointment
You will have blood samples taken 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. This appointment is usually a few days before your chemotherapy appointment.
2nd visit - Chemotherapy appointment
At this appointment you will spend about 3 hours on one of the day case treatment areas. Please allow up to an hour longer for your first visit. If you have scalp cooling allow an additional hour for your treatment. We will give you anti sickness medication and your chemotherapy in a drip. You will go home with your portable pump containing 5-FU.
3rd visit - Pump disconnection
This appointment is 2 days after your chemotherapy appointment. You will return to one of the day case treatment areas to have your portable pump disconnected. This should take about half an hour.
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.
What are the possible side effects?
There are a number of possible side effects which can occur with this chemotherapy. The doctors, nurses and pharmacy team can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.
You may lose your hair with this chemotherapy. This is temporary and your hair will grow back when you finish your chemotherapy. We can arrange a wig if you would like one, please ask your nurse for more information.
We have a leaflet on coping with hair loss. Please ask your nurse if you would like a copy. A method known as ‘scalp cooling’ or ‘cold capping’ can sometimes be used to prevent hair loss.
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 when you are at home after your treatment, contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice. The telephone number is on page 8.
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 if your temperature is below 35.5°. The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.
Diarrhoea is a recognised side effect of both irinotecan and 5-FU. This can either occur within 24 hours following treatment or from about five days after starting treatment.
Diarrhoea within 24 hours of treatment
Diarrhoea which occurs at the time of treatment or up to 24 hours after irinotecan and 5-FU can come with other symptoms. For example sweating, stomach pains, watering eyes, blurred vision or dizziness. The atropine injection we give you before your treatment usually stops these symptoms.
We do not recommend that you take anti-diarrhoeal tablets with this type of diarrhoea. If you develop diarrhoea or any of the symptoms described within the first 24 hours after treatment please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately for advice. The telephone number is at the end of this leaflet.
Diarrhoea starting more than 24 hours after treatment
We will have given you medication to help stop diarrhoea. These are called loperamide. You should take these as follows:
If the diarrhoea lasts more than 12 hours you should contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately for advice. The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.
It is important that you drink plenty of water and salty type liquids if you have diarrhoea. These include soda water, carbonated water and soups.
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.
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.
Soreness to your hands and feet
You may experience mild pain, redness and swelling of your hands or feet. If this occurs we recommend using a non perfumed cream or lotion regularly. Please contact Velindre Cancer Centre if your hands or feet become painful.
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.
Other side effects
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.
This chemotherapy can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It is best to avoid strong sunlight, wear a hat and use a sun block.
Very rarely people on this chemotherapy may experience heart problems such as angina or palpitations. If you wish to discuss this further please speak to your doctor.
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.
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 www.medicines.org.uk. 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 attention at any time of the day or night. For example you should phone if you:
Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223
Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines
Macmillan freephone Helpline 0808 808 0000
Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010
This information is also available in Welsh
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.