Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
Trade Names: Oncovin
Other Names: Vincristine Sulfate,
Vincristine is an anti-cancer ("antineoplastic" or "cytotoxic") chemotherapy drug.
Vincristine is classified as a plant alkaloid. For more detail, see "How Vincristine
Works" section below.
What Vincristine Is Used For:
- Cancers treated with Vincristine include: acute leukemia, Hodgkin's and non- Hodgkin's
lymphoma, neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma, Wilms' tumor, multiple
myeloma, chronic leukemias, thyroid cancer, brain tumors.
- It is also used to treat some blood disorders.
Note: If a drug has been approved for one use, physicians sometimes elect
to use this same drug for other problems if they believe it might be helpful.
How Vincristine Is Given:
- Vincristine is given through a vein by intravenous injection (IV push) or infusion
(IV). There is no pill form.
- Vincristine is a vesicant. A vesicant is a chemical that causes extensive
tissue damage and blistering if it escapes from the vein. The nurse or doctor
who gives Vincristine must be carefully trained. If you notice pain, redness
or swelling at the IV site while you are receiving Vincristine sulfate, alert your
health care professional immediately.
- The amount of Vincristine you will receive depends on many factors, including your
height and weight, your general health or other health problems, and the type of
cancer you have. Your doctor will determine your dose and schedule.
Important things to remember about the side effects of Vincristine:
- Most people do not experience all of the side effects listed.
- Side effects are often predictable in terms of their onset and duration.
- Side effects are almost always reversible and will go away after treatment is complete.
- There are many options to help minimize or prevent side effects.
- There is no relationship between the presence or severity of side effects and the
effectiveness of Vincristine.
The following side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for patients
- Hair loss (in
20-70% of patients) may be partial or complete hair loss
The following are less common side effects (occurring in 10-29%) for patients receiving
- Low blood counts. Your white and red blood cells and platelets may temporarily
decrease. This can put you at increased risk for infection, anemia and/or
Nadir: Meaning low point,
nadir is the point in time between chemotherapy cycles in which you experience low
Onset: 7 days
Nadir: 7-10 days
Recovery: 21 days
- Abdominal cramps
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Taste changes
- Peripheral neuropathy: Although uncommon, a serious side effect of decreased sensation
and paresthesia (numbness and tingling of the hands and feet) may be noted. Sensory
loss, numbness and tingling, and difficulty in walking may last for at least as
long as therapy is continued. These side effects may become progressively more severe
with continued treatment, and your doctor may decide to decrease your dose.
Not all side effects are listed above, some that are rare (occurring in less than
10% of patients) are not listed here. However, you should always inform your
health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.
When to contact your doctor or health care provider:
Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you should
experience any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4° F (38° C), chills (possible signs of infection)
- Urinary retention (inability to urinate)
The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not emergency situations.
Contact your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the following:
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Black or tarry stools, or blood in your stools or urine
- Diarrhea (4-6 episodes in a 24-hour period)
- Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and unrelieved with prescribed medications)
- Vomiting (vomiting more than 4-5 times in a 24-hour period)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Lip or mouth sores
- Painful urination
- Bone pain
Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.
- Before starting Vincristine treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about any
other medications you are taking (including over-the-counter, vitamins, or herbal
remedies). Do not take aspirin or products containing aspirin unless your
doctor permits this.
- Decreased sensation, numbness and tingling in fingers and toes may become progressively
worse with repeated doses of Vincristine. It is important to report this to
- Inform your health care professional if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior
to starting this treatment. Pregnancy category D (Vincristine may be hazardous to
the fetus. Women who are pregnant or become pregnant must be advised of the
potential hazard to the fetus).
- For both men and women: Do not conceive a child (get pregnant) while taking Vincristine.
Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, are recommended. Discuss with
your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.
- Do not breast feed while taking Vincristine.
- Apply warm compress if you have any pain, redness or swelling at the IV site, and
notify your doctor.
- Keep your bowels moving. Your health care provider may prescribe a stool softener
to help prevent constipation that may be caused by Vincristine.
- Drink 2 to 3 quarts of fluid every 24 hours, unless you were told to restrict your
fluid intake, and maintain good nutrition. This will decrease your chances of being
constipated, and prevent dehydration.
- You may be at risk of infection so try to avoid crowds or people with colds, and
report fever or any other signs of infection immediately to your healthcare provider.
- Wash your hands often.
- Use an electric razor and soft toothbrush to minimize bleeding.
- Avoid contact sports or activities that could cause injury.
- Avoid sun exposure. Wear SPF 15 (or higher) sunblock and protective clothing.
- To reduce nausea, take anti-nausea medications as prescribed by your doctor, and
eat small, frequent meals.
- Keep your mouth clean with baking soda and salt rinses. You can mix 1/2 to 1 tsp.
of baking soda and/or 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt in 8 ounces of water, and use as a mouthwash,
to avoid or decrease the severity of mouth sores.
- In general, drinking alcoholic beverages should be minimized or avoided. You
should discuss this with your doctor.
- If you experience symptoms or side effects, be sure to discuss them with your health
care team. They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that
are effective in managing such problems.
Monitoring and Testing:
- Because drug toxicity is seen as numbness and tingling of fingers and toes, a periodic
physical examination, which includes a check of your reflexes, is necessary to detect
the need for decreased dosages.
- Periodic blood work will be obtained to monitor your complete blood count (CBC).
Various blood tests to monitor the function of other organs (such as your kidneys
and liver) will also be ordered by your doctor.
How Vincristine Works:
Cancerous tumors are characterized by cell division, which is no longer
controlled as it is in normal tissue. "Normal" cells stop dividing when
they come into contact with like cells, a mechanism known as contact inhibition.
Cancerous cells lose this ability. Cancer cells no longer have the normal
checks and balances in place that control and limit cell division. The process
of cell division, whether normal or cancerous cells, is through the cell cycle.
The cell cycle goes from the resting phase, through active growing phases, and then
to mitosis (division).
The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt
cell division. Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells
the cell how to copy itself in division. If the cells are unable to divide,
they die. The faster the cells are dividing, the more likely it is that chemotherapy
will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink. They also induce cell suicide
(self-death or apoptosis).
Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle
specific. Chemotherapy drugs that affect cells when they are at rest are called
cell-cycle non-specific. The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the
type of cells, rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is
likely to be effective. This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles.
Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between the cancerous cells
and the normal cells. The "normal" cells will grow back and be healthy but in the
meantime, side effects occur. The "normal" cells most commonly affected by
chemotherapy are the blood cells, the cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and
the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea,
and/or hair loss. Different drugs may affect different parts of the body.
Vincristine belongs to a class of chemotherapy drugs called plant alkaloids. Plant
alkaloids are made from plants. The vinca alkaloids are made from the periwinkle
plant (catharanthus rosea). The taxanes are made from the bark of the Pacific Yew
tree (taxus). The vinca alkaloids and taxanes are also known as antimicrotubule
agents. The podophyllotoxins are derived from the May Apple plant. Camptothecan
analogs are derived from the Asian "Happy Tree" (Camptotheca acuminata). Podophyllotoxins
and camptothecan analogs are also known as topoisomerase inhibitors. The plant
alkaloids are cell-cycle specific. This means they attack the cells during
various phases of division.
- Vinca alkaloids: Vincristine, Vinblastine and Vinorelbine
- Taxanes: Paclitaxel and Docetaxel
- Podophyllotoxins: Etoposide and Tenisopide
- Camptothecan analogs: Irinotecan and Topotecan
Antimicrotubule agents (such as Vincristine), inhibit the microtubule structures
within the cell. Microtubules are part of the cell's apparatus for dividing
and replicating itself. Inhibition of these structures ultimately results
in cell death.
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional
about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained
in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.
Chemocare.com is designed to provide the latest information about chemotherapy to patients and their families, caregivers and friends. For information about the 4th Angel Mentoring Program visit www.4thangel.org