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How It Works

Capecitabine belongs to a class of drugs called antimetabolites. It interferes with the growth of cancer cells. Capecitabine is available as tablets that are taken by mouth (oral).

Why It Is Used

Capecitabine is used to treat cancer, such as metastatic breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

How Well It Works

Capecitabine is an effective antitumour drug for many people. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this drug slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body. One study shows that treating stage III metastatic colon cancer with capecitabine after surgery is at least as effective as treating with fluorouracil plus leucovorin after surgery. People taking capecitabine had later and less severe side effects.1

Side Effects

Side effects of capecitabine can be severe.

  • Symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as rash, swelling, or difficulty breathing.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Tingling, numbness, pain, or swelling of the hands or feet. This is called hand-foot syndrome.
  • Pain, redness, swelling, or sores around the mouth.

Hand-foot syndrome is a problem for some people taking capecitabine. Your doctor will watch you closely and change how much medicine you are taking if you start to have a problem with your hands or feet.2

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Capecitabine should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

When used in combination with blood-thinning drugs (anticoagulants), such as warfarin (Coumadin) or heparin, capecitabine can cause serious bleeding and death. Tell your doctor if you are taking warfarin or an other anticoagulant drug, including ASA. If you have any unusual bleeding or bruising, call your doctor immediately.

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.

Capecitabine can cause birth defects. Do not use this drug if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are taking it.

Do not drink alcohol beverages while taking capecitabine.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Twelves C, et al. (2005). Capecitabine as adjuvant treatment for stage III colon cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(26): 2696–2704.
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2010). Colon cancer. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, version 2. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised November 1, 2010

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