What is thiotepa?

Thiotepa (TEPADINA®) is used to treat some blood cancers and several other types of cancer. It is given before a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant.

It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and the type of cancer you have.

Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

How is thiotepa given?

You will be given thiotepa during a stay in hospital. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you. Thiotepa can be given in combination with other cancer drugs. 

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.

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs can be given through: 

  • 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).

Your nurse will give thiotepa as a drip (infusion) into your line.

Your course of chemotherapy

Thiotepa is usually given in combination with other chemotherapy drugs. It is given over several days before you have a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. It is given either every 12 or 24 hours. Treatment can last for up to 5 days. How often you have the infusion and the length of your treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have.

Your nurse or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.

About side effects

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. If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may 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.

More information

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.

Side effects while treatment is being given

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include:

  • feeling hot or flushed
  • shivering
  • itching
  • a skin rash
  • feeling dizzy
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless or wheezy
  • 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 happens a few hours after treatment. If you develop any signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away.

Pain along the vein

This treatment can cause pain at the place where the drip (infusion) is given or along the vein. If you feel pain, tell your nurse or doctor straight away so that they can check the site. They may give the drug more slowly or flush it through with more fluid to reduce pain.

Common side effects of thiotepa

Risk of infection

This treatment will 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 called neutropenia. 

Thiotepa can increase your risk of sepsis. Sepsis (also called blood poisoning) is a serious and potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. We have further information about sepsis.

If you are having a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, you will probably be looked after in a single room for a few weeks. This is to reduce your risk of infection. Your nurse will give you drugs to help prevent or to treat an infection, if you have one. They will take your temperature regularly and check you for signs of an infection..

The number of white blood cells should gradually increase after the stem cell or bone marrow transplant. You will have regular blood tests to check this.

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:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash
  • blood in the urine
  • bleeding from the vagina.

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.

Feeling sick

The nurses will give you anti-sickness drugs regularly to help prevent or control sickness during your treatment. If you feel sick or are sick (vomit), tell your nurse or doctor. They may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Do not worry if you do not eat much for a day or two. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They will give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements.

Raised blood sugar levels

This treatment can raise your blood sugar levels. If you have a raised blood sugar level, you may:

  • feel thirsty
  • need to pass urine (pee) more often
  • feel 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 change your insulin or tablet dose.

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.

Diarrhoea

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.

Tummy pain

This treatment can cause inflammation in the gullet, stomach, or bowel.

You may get pain or discomfort in your tummy (abdomen), feel bloated or have indigestion.

Tell your doctor straight away if you have:

  • severe tummy pain or a fever
  • blood or mucus in your stools (poo)
  • dark or tar-like stools

Skin changes

This treatment may affect your skin. It can cause a rash, which may be itchy. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day.

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 treatment finishes.

Rarely, a much more serious skin condition can develop. You may have a skin rash which then blisters, and your skin can peel. You may also feel unwell with flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature and joint pain. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or hospital immediately.

Hair loss

Your hair will get thinner or you may lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes, eyebrows or other body hair.

Your nurse can talk to you about ways to cope with hair loss. There are ways to cover up hair loss if you want to. It is important to cover your head to protect your scalp when you are out in the sun.

Hair loss is almost always temporary. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends.

Eye problems

Your eyes may become red and inflamed (conjunctivitis). Tell your doctor if this happens. You may need eye drops.

It can also cause blurry vision. You should not drive or operate machinery if you notice changes to your eyesight.

Hearing changes

This treatment may cause hearing changes, including hearing loss. You may have ringing in the ears. This is called tinnitus. You may also become unable to hear some high-pitched sounds. Hearing changes usually get better after this treatment ends. But some can be permanent. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing.

High blood pressure

Thiotepa may cause high blood pressure. A nurse will check your blood pressure regularly during treatment. If you have headaches, nosebleeds or feel dizzy, let your doctor know. Your doctor can usually prescribe tablets to control high blood pressure.

Effects on the liver

This treatment may affect how your liver works. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working.

Effects on nervous system

This treatment can affect the nervous system. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • numbness or tingling in your arms or legs
  • problems with moving 
  • loss of balance or co-ordination
  • loss of memory or concentration
  • feeling confused
  • feeling anxious or restless.

You should not drive or operate machinery if you have these symptoms.

Thiotepa can cause fits (seizures). Tell your doctor straightaway if you have a fit.

Back, joint or muscle pain

You may get pain in your back, muscles or joints for a few days after chemotherapy. If this happens, tell your doctor so they can give you painkillers. Tell them if the pain does not get better. Having warm baths and taking regular rests may help.

Fluid build-up

This treatment may cause a build-up of fluid. You may gain weight, or your face, ankles and legs may swell. This improves slowly after your treatment has finished. Your doctor may give you drugs to help reduce the swelling.

Less common side effects of thiotepa

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working. These may be done before, during and after treatment.

If the treatment is causing heart problems, your doctor may change the type of treatment you are having.

Contact your doctor straight away on the 24-hour number the hospital has given you if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:
  • pain or tightness in your chest
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor straight away if you develop:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • a fever, with a temperature over 37.5°C (99.5°F).

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs. You may need steroids or other treatments.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. 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 constipation, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can give you drugs called laxatives to help.

Effects on the kidneys

This treatment can affect how your kidneys work. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment finishes. You will have blood tests to check how well your kidneys are working. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have blood in your urine (pee) or you are passing urine less than usual.

It is important to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of non-alcoholic fluid each day to help protect your kidneys.

Bladder problems

Thiotepa can irritate your bladder and cause pain when you pass urine. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. 

Second cancer

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.

Menopausal symptoms

Thiotepa may cause side effects similar to menopausal symptoms. Some symptoms include:

  • hot flushes and sweats
  • difficulty sleeping
  • dry skin
  • poor concentration.

Symptoms usually get better once your treatment ends. We have more information about managing menopausal symptoms.

Other information about thiotepa

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.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. You may need a pregnancy test before starting treatment. 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.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Breastfeeding

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.

Other medicines

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.

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.

Vaccinations

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.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    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.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.