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Etoposide (VP-16, VePesid)

Article Translations: (Spanish)

How does this medicine work?

Etoposide (e-toe-poe-side) is used to treat certain types of cancer. It destroys the cancer cells during certain phases of cell life.

How is it given?

Etoposide is given in the hospital or clinic by IV infusion. It may also be given by mouth in capsule form or as a liquid in pre-filled oral syringes. It should be given at regular times to keep a steady level in the bloodstream. Your child should be awake and alert when taking any medicine.

___ If using the liquid form, you can give it undiluted or diluted.

  1. Put on gloves.
  2. To give it undiluted, give a small squirt of medicine inside the cheek. To avoid choking, let your child swallow each squirt before giving more.
  3. To dilute it, mix it in a glass with a small amount of apple or orange juice or lemonade just before giving the dose. Make sure your child take all of the mixture.
  4. Wash any glass supplies right after use. Put the used gloves and syringe in the chemotherapy waste bin

The liquid has a bitter taste. Eating sour candy or chewing gum after the dose may help reduce the bad taste.

__ If using the capsule form:

Wear gloves to handle the capsule. It should be swallowed whole with a glass of water or apple or orange juice. Put the used gloves into the chemotherapy waste bin.

Are there any precautions about food or other medicines?

Etoposide capsules or liquid may be taken with food.

Check with the doctor, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist before giving any other prescription or non-prescription medicines, herbs, or vitamins.

What should I do if a dose is missed?

If one dose is missed, give it as soon as you remember that day. Never give a double dose.

If your child vomits within 30 minutes after receiving a dose, give it again. If your child vomits after 30 minutes, do not repeat the dose. Call the oncology clinic if more than one dose is missed or vomited.

What are the side effects?


  • low blood cell counts
  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea, vomiting


  • headache
  • impaired liver function
  • tingling in arms and legs


  • mouth sores
  • low blood pressure
  • secondary cancer

Etoposide can also cause an allergic reaction. Signs of this are:

  • redness in the face
  • rash or hives
  • fever or chills
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble breathing

When should I call the doctor?

  • bleeding
  • fever
  • pain or burning while urinating
  • shortness of breath
  • sore throat
  • mouth sores
  • allergic reaction
  • trouble breathing - call 911

What else do I need to know?

The blood counts should return to normal around 20 days after the medicine is given.

Your child's blood pressure and heart rate will be closely watched while receiving this medicine by IV.

All caregivers should wear gloves when handling urine, stool, and vomit while your child is receiving the chemotherapy and for 48 hours afterward. Urine, stool, and vomit can be safely disposed of in septic tanks and the sewer system.

Any clothing or bed linens that are contaminated with urine, stool, or vomit should be washed separately from other laundry in hot water and detergent. Anyone handling the contaminated laundry should wear gloves.

Good mouth care will help prevent mouth sores.

You and your child should know the names of all the medicines he or she is taking. Share this information with anyone involved in your child's care.

Always make sure you have enough medicine on hand. Each time you refill your prescriptions, check to see how many refills are left. If no refills are left the pharmacy will need 2 or 3 days to contact the clinic to renew the prescription.

Before giving the first dose, read the label. Be sure it is what was prescribed. After a refill, if the medicine looks different to you, ask your pharmacist or call the oncology clinic before giving it.

Check the label for the expiration date. Bring outdated or extra medicines back to the clinic or pharmacy for disposal. Do not flush them down the toilet or throw them in the garbage.

Store all medicines in their original container and away from direct sunlight or heat. Do not store in humid places such as the bathroom. Keep them out of children's reach, locked up if possible.

If too much or the wrong kind of chemotherapy medicine is taken, call the oncology clinic right away. If your child is unconscious or has a seizure, call 911.


This is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call the oncology clinic or pharmacist.

Last reviewed 8/2015 

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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