| Last Modified: February 17, 2012
Capecitabine works by inhibiting DNA synthesis and replication. Without proper DNA, cancerous cells cannot grow and divide, and thus die.
How to Take Capecitabine
Capecitabine is taken by mouth in pill form, twice a day, about 30 minutes after breakfast and dinner. Your morning and evening doses may be different amounts. Swallow the pills whole (do not crush or break), with water. This dose is given for 2 weeks, followed by a one-week rest period. This cycle is usually repeated multiple times.
Possible Side Effects of Capecitabine
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of Capecitabine. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:
Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)
White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4 F), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.
Tips to preventing infection:
For more suggestions, read the Neutropenia Tip Sheet.
Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)
Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues in your body. When the red cell count is low, you may feel tired or weak. You should let your doctor or nurse know if you experience any shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or pain in your chest. If the count gets too low, you may receive a blood transfusion. Read the anemia tip sheet for more information.
Nausea and/or Vomiting
Be sure to take your doses after a meal. Ask your doctor or nurse to prescribe an anti-nausea medication. If you continue to have nausea or vomiting, notify your doctor or nurse so they can adjust the medication and help you manage this side effect. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms. Read the Nausea & Vomiting Tip Sheet for more suggestions.
Call your doctor or nurse if you are unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours or if you feel lightheaded or dizzy at any time.
Hand and Foot Syndrome (HFS)
HFS is a skin reaction that appears on the palms of the hands and/or the soles of the feet as a result of certain chemotherapy agents. It can start as a feeling of tingling or numbness in the palms and/or soles and progress to swelling, redness, peeling skin, and tenderness or pain. Notify your healthcare team right away if you notice any of these signs of HFS. Learn more about HFS on OncoLink.
Your oncology team can recommend medications to relieve diarrhea. Also, try eating low-fiber, bland foods, such as white rice and boiled or baked chicken. Avoid raw fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals and seeds. Soluble fiber is found in some foods that absorbs fluid and can help relieve diarrhea. Foods high in soluble fiber include: applesauce, bananas (ripe), canned fruit, orange and grapefruit sections, boiled potatoes, white rice and products made with white flour, oatmeal, cream of rice, cream of wheat, and farina. Drink 8-10 glasses on non-alcoholic, un-caffeinated fluid a day to prevent dehydration. Read Low Fiber Diet for Diarrhea for more tips.
Dehydration is a dangerous consequence of diarrhea. Notify your health care team if you experience 4 more bowel movements a day than your normal, multiple watery stools or diarrhea at night, as these can quickly lead to dehydration.
Mouth Sores (Mucositis)
Certain cancer treatments can cause sores or soreness in your mouth and/or throat. Notify your doctor or nurse if your mouth, tongue, inside of your cheek or throat becomes white, ulcerated or painful. Performing regular mouth care can help prevent or manage mouth sores. If mouth sores become painful, your doctor or nurse can recommend a pain reliever. Read the mucositis tip sheet for more information.
Nail and Skin Changes
Your fingernails/toenails may become dark, brittle or fall off. You may notice dry skin or changes in the color or tone of your skin. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun, which can result in severe sunburn or rash. Sun sensitivity can last even after chemotherapy is completed. Avoid the sun between 10-2pm, when it is strongest. Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) everyday; wear sunglasses and long sleeves/pants to protect your skin. Keep your fingernails and toenails clean and dry. You may use nail polish, but do not wear fake nails. Notify your doctor or nurse if any nails fall off. For more suggestions, read the Nail and Skin Care Tip Sheet.
Decrease in Appetite