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Vincristine Side Effects + Usage for Cancer Patients

Although they’re necessary to defeat cancer, chemotherapy drugs can also take a significant toll on those who undergo treatment. These medications are well-known for the debilitating symptoms they cause in patients, including some that can drastically reduce a person’s quality of life, but in some cases, there are steps a patient can take to mitigate those symptoms. Among the many chemo drugs that are known to cause these issues is vincristine, which is also known by the brand names Oncovin and Vincasar Pfs. If you or someone you know is undergoing treatment with vincristine or is about to begin their first treatment, it’s worth asking: “What are vincristine’s side effects and uses for cancer patients?” To find out more, continue reading as the people at ENU, makers of nutrition shakes for cancer patients, provide some answers.

How Does Vincristine Work?

Like all chemotherapy drugs, vincristine is used to treat cancer, but the different types of drugs used in these treatments can work in a variety of ways. In the case of vincristine, the medication is classified as what’s called a “vinca alkaloid” (also called a monoterpenoid indole alkaloid). Of the four vinca alkaloids, vincristine is especially powerful, which makes it all the more effective as a cancer-fighting treatment.

This class of drug works by attacking a type of protein called a tubulin, which is essential to the reproduction cycle of cells – this includes cancer cells. The tubulin is necessary to create things called spindle fibers, which give the cell structural support as it divides; when vincristine reaches the tubulins of a cell, it prevents them from assembling into spindle fibers, halting the process of cell division and stopping your tumor from growing.

How Is Vincristine Used?

Though all chemo medications are used on cancer, the unique mechanisms of each often make them better suited to address specific types of the disease. The nature of vincristine lends itself to the treatment of acute and chronic leukemias, Ewing’s sarcoma, neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma, multiple myeloma, brain tumors, thyroid cancer, and both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In addition, this medication is sometimes used to treat certain disorders of the blood.

As with most drugs, the dose of vincristine you’re ultimately prescribed will depend on a number of factors, including the nature and seriousness of your cancer diagnosis, your level of overall health and well-being, and your general size (in terms of height and weight. Unlike many other types of chemo, however, vincristine does not come in a tablet; instead, it must be administered intravenously, either through a direct injection or a slower IV infusion.

It’s also important to know that vincristine is an example of a vesicant – a type of chemical that can cause serious damage to tissues outside the veins. If, when receiving an injection or infusion of vincristine, you notice significant pain, swelling, or inflammation at the site of the IV, call your nurse or doctor right away.

The Side Effects of Vincristine

A note before covering the side effects of this drug: just because some people on vincristine experience certain symptoms doesn’t mean that you will. In fact, most people on chemo show only a few of the possible side effects associated with their medication, though it can be difficult to predict exactly what might happen in a particular individual. If you experience serious side effects that are affecting your quality of life or ability to function independently, be sure to report them to your doctor or oncologist. The following are some of the most common side effects of vincristine:

  • Hair loss, which may affect all or only some of your hair
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Oral mucositis (mouth sores)
  • Lack of appetite or sudden weight loss
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood cell counts, which tends to be most severe about a week after each treatment
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), which may manifest itself as tingling or a full or partial loss of sensation in the hands and feet

Some of the vincristine side effects listed above may be minor, while others can be severe or put you in danger of developing a secondary side effect; for example, low blood cell counts can put you at greater risk of developing an infection. Be sure to keep your doctor apprised of your condition anytime you notice a change or feel your symptoms worsen.

Practicing Self-Care on Vincristine

While you may not be able to entirely avoid the side effects of vincristine, there are likely some steps you can take to effectively reduce the severity of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. For instance, staying well-hydrated can help to ward off constipation, and it can mitigate the dehydrating effects of vomiting and diarrhea.

If you experience a loss of appetite or develop mouth sores that make eating solid food difficult, you may benefit from a liquid nutritional supplement for cancer patients, such as those from ENU. In addition, washing your hands regularly and avoiding exposure to strangers or new environments can help mitigate the possibility of infection and keep you healthier overall. And as with any major medical treatment, follow all your doctor’s instructions and ask before implementing any change or taking any new medication.

ENU Nutritional Shakes and Supplements Available for Chemo Patients

If you or someone you love is going through chemotherapy, finding ways to ease the burden of these treatments is probably a top priority. Because the focus at ENU is on providing well-rounded nutrition with a balanced mix of real food ingredients, we’re confident that our products can help support those on vincristine. To learn more about our meal replacement shakes and powdered nutritional supplements, visit ENU online to call us today at (855) 266-6733.

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