Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs are used to treat many types of cancer, including lung, breast, ovarian, and testicular cancer. Though effective, these drugs can cause many side effects.

Chemotherapy is one of the most common cancer treatments. It involves taking medications that are designed to destroy cancer cells.

Many different types of chemotherapy drugs are used to treat cancer. One of the most frequently used categories is called platinum-based chemotherapy drugs. They include:

These medications are often used in combination with other anticancer drugs. For example, colorectal cancer is often treated with the FOLFOX regimen. This regimen is a combination of oxaliplatin with two other drugs called fluorouracil and folinic acid.

In this article, we take a deeper look at how platinum-based chemotherapy treats cancer and what types of cancer it’s used for.

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs contain the element platinum. They’re used to treat many different types of cancer. Cancers that respond to platinum-based chemotherapy are called platinum sensitive cancers.

The first drug discovered in this class was cisplatin. It has been used to treat cancer for more than 40 years. More recently, oxaliplatin and carboplatin have also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Researchers are continuing to examine the potential benefits of newer platinum-based chemotherapy medications, such as nedaplatin or lobaplatin. Researchers hope that newer drugs might be able to cut down on the side effects.

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs are used to treat many different types of cancer, often in combination with other medications. Here’s a look at some of the cancers they’re used to treat.


Among other cancers, cisplatin is used as a first-line treatment for:


Some of the cancers oxaliplatin is used to treat include:


Uses for carboplatin include but aren’t limited to:

Who’s a good candidate for platinum-based chemotherapy?

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs can damage healthy cells in your body. This damage can cause serious problems, especially in people with pre-existing health conditions or advanced age.

Factors that doctors consider before administering these medications include:

  • your age
  • other health conditions
  • current organ dysfunction
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Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs fall into a class of drugs called alkylating agents. They’re generally most effective at treating slow-growing cancers.

The platinum molecule in platinum-based drugs binds to the DNA of cancer cells. This binding is thought to induce DNA damage and cellular death.

It’s now also thought that platinum-based drugs can stimulate a process called immunogenic cell death. In this process, the cancer cells are destroyed by chemotherapy, and as the cells die, they teach the immune system to attack the remaining cancer cells. Oxaliplatin seems to have the greatest ability to stimulate this process.

Platinum-based chemotherapy can be effective in treating many different types of cancer. For example, cisplatin is one of the most effective drugs for ovarian cancer with as many as 80% of people having an initial response.

Despite potentially being able to treat cancer or prolong survival, platinum-based drugs often cause side effects that limit the dose doctors can administer. Newer platinum-based derivates, such as nedaplatin, lobaplatin, and carboplatin, may have fewer side effects.

Some types of cancer are also commonly resistant to platinum-based chemotherapy.

For example, a study published in 2022 stated that about 80% of people with ovarian cancer are treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel or cisplatin and paclitaxel. About 70% of people treated with these drugs relapse, and the relapsed cancer is often resistant to platinum-based chemotherapy.

Platinum-based chemotherapy medications can damage healthy cells in your body and cause many side effects.

Side effects can include but aren’t limited to:

Long-term side effects

In a 2015 study, researchers demonstrated that platinum is still detectable in the blood 28 years after cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Some long-term side effects have been linked to elevated platinum levels, such as:

  • tingling or burning of extremities
  • low sex hormones
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure

Chemotherapy may be administered:

  • in a hospital
  • in a clinic
  • in your doctor’s office
  • at home

Most types of platinum-based chemotherapy are administered intravenously (IV) through a vein in your hand or arm. Cisplatin and carboplatin are also sometimes administered directly into the space in your abdomen that contains your internal organs in a process known as intraperitoneal or IP chemotherapy.

Each session can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

Chemotherapy is usually administered in cycles where you’re only given the drug on certain days of the cycle.

Chemotherapy cycles typically last 2 to 6 weeks. You only receive treatment on certain days of your cycle. Typically, you’ll receive anywhere from four to eight cycles.

For example, the FOLFOX regimen is usually delivered in 2-week cycles. Chemotherapy is administered on days 1 and 2 and not on days 3 to 14 to give your body time to heal.

Fewer cycles are often associated with fewer side effects. For example, cancers that develop in the cells that line your bladder or urethra that can’t be removed surgically are typically treated with six cycles of platinum-based chemotherapy.

In a 2018 study, researchers found evidence that four cycles might be equally as effective with a lower chance of side effects.

How long has platinum-based chemotherapy been around?

The first platinum-based chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, was approved for use by the FDA in 1978. Researchers are continuing to examine newer drugs that may cause fewer side effects.

Are there any serious complications associated with platinum-based chemotherapy?

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs can cause serious complications, such as cognitive changes or cardiovascular problems. Your doctor may recommend lowering your dose or stopping treatment if you develop severe side effects.

Can you have platinum-based chemotherapy if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding?

Researchers are continuing to examine whether platinum-based chemotherapy is safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In a small 2022 study, researchers found evidence that it might be reasonably safe for pregnant people with cervical cancer.

What are the dose-limiting side effects of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs?

A dose-limiting side effect is a side effect that’s serious enough to prevent doctors from increasing the dose of the drug further.

The dose-limiting side effect of cisplatin is nephrotoxicity, the deterioration of your kidney function. For carboplatin, it’s myelosuppression or reduced activity of bone marrow activity that results in reduced blood cell counts.

A dose-limiting side effect of oxaliplatin is neurotoxicity, an altered activity of your nervous system.

Is it OK to have vaccines if you’re having platinum-based chemotherapy?

According to the American Cancer Society, it’s generally not recommended to receive a vaccine during chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The exception is the flu vaccine.

What are the alternatives to platinum-based chemotherapy?

Your doctor may suggest other types of chemotherapy drugs or other cancer treatments like radiation or immunotherapy. They may also recommend taking part in a clinical trial where new treatment options are used to see if they perform better than current standard treatment.

Medications used to treat cancer that contain platinum are called platinum-based chemotherapy drugs. They’ve been used for over 40 years to treat many different types of cancer.

Side effects often limit the dose of platinum-based drugs that doctors can administer. If you have severe side effects, your doctor may recommend trying another treatment option.