Etoposide is a drug that can be administered either as a single agent, or in combination with cisplatin or carboplatin. The route of administration is intravenous or oral.

It is usually given in combination with cisplatin or carboplatin and is the therapeutic standard for the treatment of patients with a small cell lung cancer. 

Sometimes, it can also be used in patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Potential side effects of Etoposide

  • Temporary reduction in bone marrow function. Etoposide can cause anemia, a tendency to develop ecchymosis (bruising), bleeding and infections. Reduced bone marrow function may occur about seven days after drug administration, usually reaching its minimum values ​​10-14 days after chemotherapy.  The blood cell count starts to rise steadily and normalizes usually within 21-28 days.

    The blood cell count decreases according to the dose of etoposide you receive and any other drugs with which chemotherapy is taken with. The oncologist will be able to tell you the chances that your blood cell count will decrease following chemotherapy. You will undergo periodic blood tests to check bone marrow function.

    If the temperature rises above 38° C or if you develop bruising or bleeding with no apparent reason, or if you suddenly do not feel well even if the temperature is normal, immediately contact the oncologist or hospital.

  • Hair loss. The hair usually begins to fall three to four weeks after the start of therapy but may occur earlier. Hair may thin out or fall completely. You may notice that even the eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hairs thin out and then fall. This is a temporary side effect: the hair will grow back once the treatment is complete. • Nausea and vomiting. Today we have very effective drugs, called anti-emetics, to prevent or significantly reduce nausea and vomiting. If nausea occurs anyway despite taking these medications, it may persist for up to five days. If the nausea is still not controllable, inform the oncologist who will prescribe a more effective antiemetic.

Less frequent side effects

  • Diarrhea. It can be easily controlled with medication but inform the oncologist if it is severe or persistent. In case of diarrhea, you have to drink a lot to replenish lost fluids.

  • Loss of appetite. The dietitian or a specialized nurse will be able to give you the right directions.

  • Temporary change in sense of taste. The dietitian can give you advice regarding this side effect.

  • Oral cavity pain and ulcers. If you experience a painful sensation in your mouth or notice small ulcers, inform the oncologist, who can advise you on the most appropriate remedies for your case.

  • Skin changes. Etoposide can cause a skin rash, which can also cause itching. The oncologist will be able to tell you the most suitable drug to solve the problem. Previously radiated areas may become irritated and be painful. You must also inform the oncologist in this case. The skin may darken due to excessive pigment production. The skin will return to normal within a few months after the end of the treatment.

  • Insomnia, headache and confusion. These are very rare side effects, which occur only if the dosage is very high. If you experience any of these side effects, you should inform the oncologist immediately.

  • Allergic reactions. Signs of an allergic reaction are the development of a rash accompanied by itching, rise in temperature, chills, localized redness in the face, dizziness, headache, shortness of breath, anxiety and increased urination. You will be kept under strict surveillance to promptly ascertain any allergic reactions; in any case, if you notice any of the above signs, you should immediately inform the oncologist.

Further information on Etoposide

Some medicines may interfere with each other when you are on chemotherapy. For this reason, consult the oncologist before taking other drugs. 

If during intravenous administration you experience a burning sensation or discomfort in the area around the vein or if you notice a leakage of fluid from the point where the cannula is inserted, immediately inform the oncologist or a nurse. If the area around the puncture site becomes irritated or swollen at any time, inform the oncologist or nurse who is following you in the ward. If you are at home, call the hospital and ask to speak with the oncologist.

Fertility: Etoposide can affect the ability to conceive. It is important that you deal with fertility problems with your oncologist before treatment begins.

Contraceptio: It is not advisable to start a pregnancy or conceive a child if you are being treated with etoposide, as the drug could compromise fetal development. Again, discuss this openly with your oncologist. 

If you are being treated with etoposide capsules, remember the following:

The capsules should always be taken at the time indicated by the doctor, according to his instructions.

Keep the capsules out of the reach of children.

If you experience a feeling of nausea immediately after taking the drug, inform the oncologist as it may be necessary to take a second capsule. Do not take a second capsule without first consulting your doctor.

If you forget to take a capsule, do not double the dose at the next dose. Inform the oncologist and continue following the instructions according to the prescription.


– Chemotherapy