Vinorelbine is a chemotherapy drug. Vinorelbine is the generic (general) name for this drug. It’s also known by the brand name Navelbine.
Before starting your treatment, many hospitals will arrange a chemotherapy information session. At this appointment a nurse will discuss with you how and when your chemotherapy will be given and how side effects can be managed. Contact numbers will also be given so you know who to phone if you have any questions or concerns.
Find out more general information about chemotherapy.
You can also read our Chemotherapy for breast cancer booklet, which includes more information about side effects and how chemotherapy is given.
Who might be offered vinorelbine?
Vinorelbine is used to treat people with breast cancer that has come back after previous treatment. It’s used when people have:
- locally advanced breast cancer (also known as regional recurrence) – breast cancer that has come back and has spread to the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest, neck and under the breastbone
- secondary breast cancer – breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, also known as advanced or metastatic breast cancer.
How does vinorelbine work?
Chemotherapy drugs interfere with how cancer cells develop and grow, and different types of chemotherapy work in different ways.
Vinorelbine works by stopping cancer cells going into the dividing stage (called mitosis) of their life cycle. This can prevent further growth of the cells and may reduce the cancer.
How is vinorelbine given?
Vinorelbine can be given either orally (by mouth) or intravenously (into a vein). Both methods are equally effective.
You may be prescribed vinorelbine on its own or in combination with other intravenous or oral drug treatments.
Based on your individual situation, your doctor will recommend the exact dose, how often you take vinorelbine, whether you have oral or intravenous vinorelbine, and whether you take it on its own or in combination with other drugs.
When vinorelbine is given orally, you may have several capsules to take together. Vinorelbine capsules should be swallowed whole (not sucked or chewed) with a glass of water and after food. The capsules are usually stored in the fridge. Follow the instructions in your vinorelbine packet for how to open and store your capsules.
Vinorelbine can also be given as an injection or short infusion (drip) into a vein in the hand or arm, or through a special line previously inserted into the vein. Read more information about how intravenous chemotherapy can be given.
What are the side effects of vinorelbine?
Like any treatment, vinorelbine chemotherapy may cause side effects. Everyone reacts differently to drugs and some people may have more side effects than others. If side effects occur, they can usually be controlled.
If you’re concerned about side effects, it’s a good idea to talk to your chemotherapy nurse or someone in your specialist team. Also, if you notice any side effects not listed here that concern you, seek further help as soon as possible.
Side effects common to all chemotherapy drugs
Some side effects of vinorelbine are common to all chemotherapy drugs. These include:
- effects on the blood (such as risk of infection, anaemia, bruising and bleeding)
- nausea and vomiting
- sore mouth
- tiredness (fatigue)
- effects on fertility.
Find out more about the side effects common to all chemotherapy regimes.
Other common side effects of vinorelbine
Vinorelbine given as an infusion can irritate the veins and surrounding skin, causing redness.
If the drug leaks into the tissues around the vein (known as extravasation) it can cause skin damage. Therefore, it’s important to let the doctor or nurse know if you notice any stinging or burning when the drug is being given.
If the infusion is causing discomfort, you may be advised to have vinorelbine capsules instead. Alternatively, intravenous vinorelbine may be given through a central venous access device.
Vinorelbine can cause bowel problems, most often constipation.
Drinking plenty of water and eating a high-fibre diet can help reduce the severity of constipation. If you feel constipated for more than two to three days, it’s important to let your doctor know. Your specialist or GP can prescribe medication to help control it.
Sometimes vinorelbine can cause mild diarrhoea. This is usually temporary, but speak to your GP if it persists.
Sometimes vinorelbine may affect how well your liver works. You’re unlikely to notice any symptoms, but your doctor may check how your liver is working using blood tests throughout your treatment.
Sensations in your hands or feet
You may experience numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. Let your doctor or nurse know if this happens. It’s usually mild and will normally improve when treatment finishes.
Less common side effects of vinorelbine
When used on its own, vinorelbine occasionally causes some temporary hair thinning. Very rarely, it can cause complete hair loss. For more information you can download our Breast cancer and hair loss booklet.
Joint or muscle pains
Sometimes joint, jaw or muscle aches or pain may occur. If this persists, talk to your doctor. They may be able to suggest ways to help such as taking anti-inflammatory pain relief.
Vinorelbine can cause your periods to stop or become irregular. However, some women can still become pregnant even if their periods are irregular or have stopped. Vinorelbine can be harmful to a developing baby. Therefore, it’s important to use an effective barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, when having vinorelbine. If you have any concerns about taking vinorelbine, you can talk to your specialist or breast care nurse.
For other useful information including how you may feel while having chemotherapy, going on holiday and having vaccinations, see our section about other chemotherapy issues.