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What is etoposide?

Etoposide (also called VP-16 or Vepesid®) is an anticancer drug. It comes as a 50-mg pink capsule and as a clear liquid taken by mouth. It is also available as a clear liquid given by vein (IV)

Etoposide can pose a health hazard to caregivers. All caregivers should take safety precautions while giving this drug. For 48 hours after this drug is given, the patient’s body fluids can contain the drug. During that 48-hour period, caregivers should follow safety guidelines when handling the patient’s vomit, blood, urine, and bowel movements, including diapers. These guidelines include wearing gloves when cleaning up body fluids. For a complete list of safety precautions, see “Do you know… Protecting caregivers from drug hazards.”

Possible side effects of etoposide


  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Allergic reaction: symptoms include coughing, stuffy nose, sneezing, itching, flushed skin or rash, swelling of face, shortness of breath, chills, fever, low or high blood pressure, and chest pain.

Later (more than a day after treatment starts)

  • Mouth or lip sores
  • Low blood counts with higher chance for infection, bleeding, and anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea (especially when taken by mouth)
  • Stomach pain
  • Rash
  • Temporary changes in liver function
  • Feeling sleepy and more tired than usual
  • Hands or feet feel numb or tingle

These are the most common side effects, but there may be others. Please report all side effects to the doctor or nurse.

In case of a severe side effect or reaction, call the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist at 901-595-3300. If you are outside the Memphis area, dial toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833), and press 0 once the call is connected.

Special instructions (for the IV form of etoposide)

  • Blood pressure checks are needed before and after etoposide is given because the IV medicine can cause changes in your blood pressure.
  • While you are receiving etoposide, tell the nurse right away if you have any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:
    • flushed skin
    • skin rash
    • itching
    • swelling of face
    • coughing
    • short of breath
    • fever
    • chills
    • stuffy nose
    • sneezing
    • chest pain

Medicines can be given to help stop the reaction. The nurse may give you the rest of the etoposide dose more slowly to help prevent any further reaction.

Special instructions (for etoposide taken by mouth)

  • Etoposide should be taken on an empty stomach. If you have problems taking this medicine on an empty stomach, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Store etoposide capsules in the refrigerator.
  • Swallow capsules whole. Do not crush, chew, or break capsules.
  • If the liquid form is used, each dose will be measured in advance by the pharmacy and put in an oral syringe. Each oral syringe holds one (1) dose.
  • Store the liquid medicine at room temperature. It does not need to be refrigerated.
  • Do not use past the expiration date written on the label.
  • You can mix the liquid with orange juice or flavored syrups right before it is taken. Tell your nurse or pharmacist if you would like a flavored syrup to mix with the liquid etoposide.

Special instructions for etoposide (pregnancy and breastfeeding)

  • Because etoposide may cause birth defects, do not take this medicine if you are pregnant. Both men and women who are taking etoposide should use effective birth control methods.
  • It is not known if etoposide passes into breast milk. Because this medicine may cause serious harm to a nursing infant, women who are taking etoposide should not breast-feed a baby.

Safe handling of etoposide

All chemotherapy drugs taken by mouth can pose a health hazard to caregivers and patients. You should be careful when handling this medicine and try to keep the drug from touching the skin. Taking precautions will ensure that both the patient and the caregiver are protected as well as possible.

  • Prepare a clean area where the drug can be handled safely (away from areas where food is prepared, out of the reach of children, and out from under any air vents or fans).
  • We suggest you or the caregiver wear gloves while handling this medicine. Wash your hands right away if your skin comes in contact with the medicine.
  • Completely clean up any spills in the area where the medicine is prepared.
  • For the liquid, St. Jude will provide enough oral syringes for each dose. Use each oral syringe only one (1) time and then discard it in the trash. Do not try to wash and reuse the syringes.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).