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LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-.

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LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet].

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Vinca Alkaloids

Last Update: September 12, 2020.

VINBLASTINE, VINCRISTINE, VINORELBINE

OVERVIEW

Introduction

The vinca alkaloids include vincristine, vinblastine and vinorelbine which are important antineoplastic agents used in many chemotherapeutic regimens for a wide variety of cancers. Despite their cytotoxic activity against cancer cells, the vinca alkaloids have rarely been implicated in causing clinically apparent acute liver injury.

Background

The vinca alkaloids are antineoplastic agents that act by binding to intracellular tubulin, the basic protein subunit of microtubules which are important in many intracellular processes including mitosis and cell division. The vinca alkaloids inhibit cell division by blocking mitosis; they also inhibit purine and RNA synthesis causing death of rapidly dividing cells. Vincristine and vinblastine were initially isolated from periwinkle (vinca rosea), extracts of which were found to have antitumor activity. Subsequently, they have been synthesized, although their structure is quite complex. Vinorelbine is a semisynthetic derivative of extracts of periwinkle. Vincristine (vin kris' teen) was approved for use in cancer chemotherapy in 1963, vinblastine (vin blas' teen) in 1965 and vinrelbine (vin or' el been) in 1994. Vincristine and vinblastine have become major components of many combination anticancer regimens, used particularly in treatment of acute leukemia, Hodgkin disease and other lymphomas, various sarcomas, Wilms tumor, neuroblastoma, and breast and lung cancer. Vinorelbine has had a more restricted use and is approved only for advance non-small cell lung cancer. The vinca alkaloids are given intravenously, typically at one or two week intervals in cycles with other agents. Importantly, the vinca alkaloids should only be given intravenously; if given intrathecally, they cause a progressive neurological syndrome, ascending paralysis and death. The vinca alkaloids are available in generic forms and under the trade names Oncovin (vincristine), Velban (vinblastine) and Navelbine (vinorelbine). Side effects are common and include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, dizziness, peripheral neuropathy, hoarseness, ataxia, dysphagia, urinary retention, constipation, diarrhea, bone marrow suppression, alopecia and phlebitis at the infusion site. Uncommon but potential severe adverse events include severe neutropenia, bleeding, peripheral neuropathy, pulmonary toxicity, hypersensitivity reactions and embryo-fetal toxicity.

Hepatotoxicity

Despite being cytotoxic for cancer cells and metabolized actively by the liver, the vinca alkaloids have only rarely been associated with significant hepatic toxicity. Because they are usually given with other anticancer agents and/or radiotherapy, which may also be hepatotoxic, the role that they play in causing liver injury is not always clear. When given on their own, the vinca alkaloids are associated with transient and asymptomatic elevations in serum aminotransferase levels in 5% to 10% of patients. However, clinically apparent liver injury attributed to the vinca alkaloids has been rare and not well defined. Both vincristine and vinblastine may increase the risk of sinusoidal obstruction syndrome, also known as venoocclusive disease of the liver, caused by radiation, dactinomycin or the alkylating agents, but not when given on their own. In these situations, the risk of sinusoidal obstruction syndrome is greater with higher doses of radiation, dactinomycin or cyclophosphamide and younger age (in children).

Likelihood score, vincristine: C (probable rare cause of clinically apparent liver injury).

Likelihood score, vinblastine: E* (unproven but suspected rare cause of clinically apparent liver injury)

Likelihood score, vinorelbine: E* (unproven but suspected rare cause of clinically apparent liver injury).

Mechanism of Injury

The reason why the vinca alkaloids are not particularly toxic to liver cells is not known, but cell division and mitosis (the major targets of vincristine and vinblastine) are rare in the resting liver. Both agents are extensively metabolized in the liver and excreted in bile.

Outcome and Management

Serum enzyme elevations are not uncommon during cancer chemotherapy and may occasionally be dose limiting; however, the vinca alkaloids are rarely the sole or major reason for significant or persistent enzyme elevations or clinically apparent liver injury. Patients who develop sinusoidal obstruction syndrome, but recover, can be safely treated with further courses of vincristine alone or combined with reduced doses of the alkylating agent or dactinomycin.

Drug Class: Antineoplastic Agents

CASE REPORT

Case 1. Fatal sinusoidal obstruction syndrome after abdominal irradiation and vincristine therapy.(1)

A 30 year old woman with poorly differentiated lymphocytic nodular lymphoma was treated with prednisone and weekly infusions of vincristine and once weekly oral streptonigrin (an antibiotic and bioreductive antineoplastic agent). Vincristine was withdrawn after 4 cycles because of neuropathy. After 6 cycles of chemotherapy, she underwent mediastinal (2000 rads) and abdominal (2225 rads) irradiation over a two month period with another cycle of vincristine (day 88). On day 111, which was 10 days after finishing radiation therapy and 33 days after the fifth and last infusion of vincristine, she developed pancytopenia, fever, abdominal pain, ascites and jaundice. Serum aminotransferase levels were markedly elevated with only modest increases in alkaline phosphatase. The fever and pancytopenia resolved with antibiotic therapy, but she developed progressive jaundice and hepatic failure and died 4 weeks later. Autopsy showed an enlarged, congested liver with sinusoidal obstruction and severe centrilobular necrosis. The autopsy showed no residual evidence of lymphoma.

Key Points

Medication:Vincristine, hepatic irradiation
Pattern:Hepatocellular (R=~100)
Severity:5+ (hepatic failure and death)
Latency:111 days after starting vincristine, 10 days after irradiation
Recovery:None
Other medications:Prednisone, streptonigrin

Laboratory Values

Days After
Starting
Chemo
Therapy
ALT
(U/L)
Alk P
(U/L)
Bilirubin
(mg/dL)
Comments
1Started oral prednisone and weekly doses of vincristine and streptonigrin
11V & S91050.8
17V & S10100
24V & S11105
31S1390
38S1190
53Rad15135
88Rad & V25140
111Admission40002555.8Jaundice, ascites, fever
113Day 215502306.0
117Day 618526510.0
122Day 118840520.0
131Day 206234020.5
141Day 30Died of hepatic failure
Normal Values<30<275<1.2
*

Abbreviations: Rad=radiation therapy, S=oral streptonigrin, V=vincristine infusion.

Comment

The clinical presentation with weight gain, abdominal pain, ascites and jaundice is typical of sinusoidal obstruction syndrome. Hepatic irradiation, dactinomycin, and the alkylating agents (dacarbazine, cyclophosphamide, myleran and busulfan) are most frequently associated with this form of liver injury. The injury is probably due to direct toxicity to sinusoidal lining cells with their subsequent necrosis and extrusion into the sinusoidal spaces, which causes obstruction, hemorrhage and local ischemia to hepatocytes. Signs of portal hypertension appear early, followed (in severe cases) by jaundice and hepatic failure. The dose of radiation used in this patient (<3000 rads) was not considered adequate to cause sinusoidal obstruction syndrome on its own, which suggested that vincristine might have increased the risk of this complication.

PRODUCT INFORMATION

REPRESENTATIVE TRADE NAMES

Vinblastine – Generic, Velban®

Vincristine – Generic, Oncovin®

Vinorelbine – Generic, Navelbine®

DRUG CLASS

Antineoplastic Agents

COMPLETE LABELING (Vinblastine)

COMPLETE LABELING (Vincristine)

COMPLETE LABELING (Vinorelbine)

Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH

CHEMICAL FORMULAS AND STRUCTURES

DRUGCAS REGISTRY NUMBERMOLECULAR FORMULASTRUCTURE
Vinblastine865-21-4C46-H58-N4-O9image 134980402 in the ncbi pubchem database
Vincristine57-22-7C46-H56-N4-O10image 134970704 in the ncbi pubchem database
Vinorelbine71486-22-1C45-H54-N4-O8image 135049333 in the ncbi pubchem database

CITED REFERENCE

1.
Hansen MM, Ranek L, Walbom S, Nissen NI. Fatal hepatitis following irradiation and vincristine. Acta Med Scand. 1982;212:171–4. [PubMed: 7148508]

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

References updated: 12 September 2020

Abbreviations: ABVD, doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine; BEACOPP, bleomycin, etoposide, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine and prednisone; CHOP, chemotherapy regimen of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone; G-CHOP, obinutuzumab with CHOP; R-CHOP, rituximab with CHOP; SOS, sinusoidal obstruction syndrome.

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    (30 year old woman with lymphoma developed SOS after liver irradiation and chemotherapy with vincristine [bilirubin 6.0 rising to 21.0 mg/dL, AST 4000 U/L, Alk P 250 U/L], with progressive multiorgan failure and death 4 weeks later: Case 1).
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    (Among 511 children with Wilms tumor treated with dactinomycin and vincristine with or without other agents or irradiation, 64 [12%] had hepatotoxicity including 41 [8%] with SOS [all with hepatomegaly, 83% ascites, 28% jaundice, 6% fatal]; rates higher in children <1 years of age and those who received irradiation [12% vs 7%]).
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    (Among 10 patients with desmoid tumors given methotrexate [50 mg/week] and vinblastine [10 mg/week], severe side effects were common and 2 developed transient ALT elevations [3 to 10 times ULN] without jaundice).
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    (Among 48 patients with refractory metastatic breast cancer treated with cisplatin combined with either vinorelbine or gemcitabine, objective response rates were similar [46%], as was time to progression and adverse events; mild [grade 1 or 2] “hepatic dysfunction” arose in 27% of both groups and did not require dose modification or progress to clinically apparent liver injury).
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    (79 year old woman with Hodgkin disease was found unconscious 3 hours after completing a first cycle of ABVD [doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine], with liver injury arising over the next 24 hours [bilirubin 2.6 mg/dL on day 2, ALT 980 U/L, Alk P 126, lactate 5.3 mmol/L], with rapid recovery).
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    (Among 10,475 adverse drug reaction reports made to a Canadian pharmacovigilance registry between 2005 and 2017 from 26 medical centers, 73% were pediatric and the most commonly implicated drugs were antineoplastic agents, including methotrexate, vincristine, doxorubicin, cisplatin, L-asparaginase, cyclophosphamide, dexamethasone, cytarabine and etoposide, hepatotoxicity being the 10th most common type of reaction [194 cases]).
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    (Among 838 patients with large B cell lymphoma treated with R-CHOP with or without ibrutinib, overall survival was not improved by ibrutinib, but serious side effects were greater [53% vs 34%]; no mention of ALT elevations or hepatotoxicity).
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    (Among 592 patients with B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma treated with 6 cycles of R-CHOP vs 4 cycles with 2 further cycles of rituximab alone, progression free survival was similar in the two groups while adverse events were more with the 6 cycles; no mention of ALT elevations or hepatotoxicity).
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