ChlVPP is named after the initials of the drugs used in the treatment. The drugs are:
- Chl – chlorambucil (Leukeran ®)
- V – vinblastine (Velbe ®)
- P – procarbazine
- P – prednisolone (a steroid).
Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.
You will be given ChlVPP in the chemotherapy day unit. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.
During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or a specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.
Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that your blood cells are at a safe level to have chemotherapy.
You will see a doctor or nurse before you have chemotherapy. They will talk to you about your blood results and ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your chemotherapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.
Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. Vinblastine can be given through:
- a short thin tube the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand (cannula)
- a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line)
- a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).
- a small port under the skin in the chest called a portacath.
Your nurse will then give you vinblastine over about 5 to 10 minutes.
You will have the chlorambucil, procarbazine and prednisolone as tablets and capsules.
Your course of chemotherapy
You usually have a course of several cycles of treatment over a few months. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about how the treatment will be given. They may give you a copy of a treatment plan to take home with you.
Each cycle of ChlVPP takes 28 days (4 weeks):
- On days 1 and 8 you have vinblastine as a drip (infusion) over about 5 to 10 minutes.
- On days 1 to14 you take chlorambucil, procarbazine and prednisolone tablets. Some people may take them for a shorter time.
After you finish all your tablets, you have a rest period. This means you do not have any chemotherapy for the next 14 days (days 15 to 28). After the rest period, you start your second cycle of ChlVPP. You may also be given other medicines to take during your cycle to help reduce the risk of infection.
You will usually have 6 to 8 cycles over a few months. Your doctor or nurse will tell you the number of cycles you are likely to have.
Taking your capsules and tablets
You will be given chlorambucil tablets, procarbazine capsules and prednisolone tablets to take at home. Always take them exactly as explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you.
They should not be chewed, opened or crushed. Take them at the same time every day.
Chlorambucil should be taken on an empty stomach. Take it 1 hour before food or 3 hours after food.
You will usually be advised to take prednisolone with breakfast in the morning. It is important not to take it on an empty stomach, as it can cause indigestion and stomach problems. It is also best to take steroids in the morning as they can keep you awake at night.
You need to avoid alcohol and certain foods (see other information, below) on the days you take procarbazine, and for 2 weeks after taking it. They may cause a reaction. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can also give you more advice about this.
If you forget to take the tablets or capsules, you should take the missed dose as soon as possible unless the next dose of the tablet or capsule you have missed is nearly due. If you are not sure whether to take a tablet or capsule, always contact the hospital for advice. Do not take a double dose unless your doctor tells you to.
Other things to remember about your tablets and capsules:
- Wash your hands after taking your tablets and capsules.
- Other people should avoid direct contact with the chemotherapy drugs.
- Keep them in the original package, away from heat and direct sunlight.
- Keep the chlorambucil in the fridge, but away from food.
- Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
- If you are sick just after taking the capsules or tablets, contact the hospital. Do not take another dose.
- If your treatment is stopped return any unused tablets and capsules to the pharmacist.
We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects. You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them.
You may also have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.
Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.
Serious and life-threatening side effects
Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.
Some people may have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:
- feeling hot or flushed
- a skin rash
- feeling dizzy
- a headache
- feeling breathless
- swelling of your face or mouth
- pain in your back, tummy or chest.
Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your treatment. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, it can be treated quickly.
Sometimes a reaction can happen a few hours after treatment.
Occasionally the chemotherapy tablets or capsules may cause an allergic reaction. If you get any of the symptoms above, or feel unwell at home, contact the hospital straight away.
The drug leaks outside the vein
The drug may leak outside the vein. If this happens it can damage the surrounding tissue. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important to treat it quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein.
Risk of infection
This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If the number of white blood cells is low, you are more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is sometimes called neutropenia.
Your doctor may give you antibiotics and other drugs to try to stop you getting an infection. These are called prophylactic medicines.
An infection can be very serious when the number of white blood cells is low. It is important to get any infection treated as soon as possible. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given if:
- your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F)
- you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
- you have symptoms of an infection
- your temperature goes below 36°C (96.8°F).
Symptoms of an infection include:
- feeling shivery and shaking
- a sore throat
- a cough
- needing to pass urine (pee) a lot, or discomfort when you pass urine.
It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.
The number of white blood cells will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more treatment. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time, until your cell count increases.
Bruising and bleeding
This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.
If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:
- bleeding gums
- heavy periods
- blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
- tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.
Tell your doctor if you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding. You may need a drip to give you extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may have symptoms such as:
- pale skin
- lack of energy
- feeling breathless
- feeling dizzy and light-headed.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.
If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.
Your doctor will give you anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness during and after chemotherapy. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist tells you. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.
If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids often and eat small amounts regularly. It is important to drink enough fluids. If you continue to feel sick, or if you are sick (vomit) more than once in 24 hours, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They will give you advice. Your doctor or nurse may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.
This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is usual for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual.
If you have diarrhoea:
- try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day
- avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods
- contact the hospital for advice.
This treatment can cause constipation and tummy pain. Constipation means that you are not able to pass stools (poo) as often as you normally do. It can become difficult or painful. Here are some tips that may help:
- Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
- Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
- Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.
If you have not had a bowel motion for 2 days or there is blood in your stool, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can prescribe laxatives to help.
Always contact the hospital straight away if you are constipated and have tummy pain, or if you are being sick.
Tummy pain and indigestion
Steroids can irritate the stomach lining. Let your nurse or doctor know if you have pain in your tummy or indigestion. They can give you drugs to help. Taking steroids with food can help to protect your stomach.
Sore mouth and throat
This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.
If your mouth or throat is sore:
- tell your nurse or doctor – they can give you a mouthwash or medicines to help
- try to drink plenty of fluids
- avoid alcohol, tobacco, and foods that irritate your mouth and throat.
Sucking ice chips may sometimes help relieve mouth or throat pain. But if you are having radiotherapy to the head or neck, do not suck on ice. It can cause damage.
Feeling tired is a common side effect of this treatment. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it has finished. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy.
If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.
Your hair may get thinner. But you are unlikely to lose all the hair from your head. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment. It is almost always temporary, and your hair will usually grow back after treatment finishes. Your nurse can talk to you about ways to cope with hair loss.
ChlVPP may affect your skin. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. Your skin may darken. It will return to its usual colour after you finish treatment.
During treatment and for several months afterwards, you will be more sensitive to the sun. Your skin may burn more easily. If you are out in the sun, use sun cream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and cover up with clothing and a hat.
This treatment may cause a skin rash. Rarely, this can become severe. If you develop a skin rash contact the hospital for advice as soon as possible.
Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may give you creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when you finish treatment.
Mood and behaviour changes
Steroids can affect your mood. You may feel anxious or restless, have mood swings or have problems sleeping. Taking your steroids in the morning may help you to sleep better. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these side effects.
Appetite changes and weight gain
You may feel more hungry than usual while taking prednisolone. If you are concerned about gaining weight, talk to your doctor, specialist nurse or dietitian.
Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
This treatment may affect the nerves, which can cause numb, tingling or painful hands or feet. You may find it hard to fasten buttons or do other fiddly tasks.
Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. They sometimes need to lower the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment finishes. But for some people they may never go away. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
Build-up of fluid
You may gain weight, or your ankles and legs may swell. This is because of fluid building up. It is caused by steroids and is more common if you are taking them for a long time. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. If your ankles and legs swell, it can help to put your legs up on a foot stool or cushion. The swelling will go down after your treatment ends.
Raised blood sugar levels
Steroids can raise the levels of sugar in your blood. Your nurse will check your blood regularly for this. They may also test your urine for sugar. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include:
- feeling thirsty
- needing to pass urine (pee) more often
- feeling tired.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this. You may need to adjust the dose of your insulin or diabetes tablets.
Changes in the way the kidneys and liver work
Muscle, bone or jaw pain
Vinblastine may cause pain in your muscles, bones or jaw. Tell your nurse or doctor if you notice this.
Dizziness or seizures
Rarely this treatment can cause dizziness or fits (seizures). Tell your doctor if this happens. It is important you do not drive if you notice these effects.
Effects on the lungs
This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor if you develop:
- a cough
You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.
High blood pressure
This treatment can sometimes cause high blood pressure. Your nurse will check your blood pressure.
This treatment can increase the risk of developing a second cancer years later. This is rare. The benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.
Interaction with alcohol and some foods
Alcohol and some foods can cause a reaction when you are taking procarbazine and for 2 weeks afterwards. They can make you feel sick and cause headaches, sweating, drowsiness and breathing problems.
It is best to avoid:
- alcohol-free beers and wines
- mature cheeses (including processed cheeses)
- salami, pepperoni and bologna sausage
- yeast or beef extracts (Oxo®, Marmite® and Bovril®)
- over-ripe fruit
- broad beans
- any pickled, fermented, smoked and matured foods
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you more advice on foods to avoid.
Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:
- medicines you have been prescribed
- medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
- vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.
Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.
You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.
Blood clot risk
Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:
- throbbing pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
- suddenly feeling breathless or coughing
- sharp chest pain, which may be worse when you cough or take a deep breath.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.
A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs that thin the blood (anticoagulants). Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
You can help reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by:
- staying active during treatment
- drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.
You may be given anticoagulants to help prevent a clot.
Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about having vaccinations.
Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have a flu vaccination and a coronavirus vaccination. These are both inactivated vaccinations that can help reduce the risk of infection. People with weak immune systems can have these, as they are not live vaccinations.
If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations. This is because they can make you unwell. Live vaccines, such as shingles, contain a very weak version of the illness they are vaccinating you against. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live and inactivated vaccinations.
Anyone who has Hodgkin lymphoma or had it in the past should be given blood and platelet transfusions that have been treated with radiation (irradiated). This lowers the risk of the donated blood cells reacting against your own. Your hospital team should give you a card to carry or a MedicAlert® to wear so hospital staff are aware of this, in case of an emergency.
Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.
Changes to periods
If you have a period, these may become irregular or stop while you are having this treatment. This may be temporary, but it can sometimes be permanent. Your menopause may start sooner than it would have done. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment finishes. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.
Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.
If you have sex during a course of this treatment, you should use barrier protection such as a condom or dental dam. This will protect your partner if any of the drug is in your semen or vaginal fluid.
Medical and dental treatment
If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.
If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert health professionals and people living with cancer.
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