Capecitabine: a review

Clin Ther. 2005 Jan;27(1):23-44. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2005.01.005.


Background: Fluorouracil (FU) is an antimetabolite with activity against numerous types of neoplasms, including those of the breast, esophagus, larynx, and gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. Systemic toxicity, including neutropenia, stomatitis, and diarrhea, often occur due to cytotoxic nonselectivity. Capecitabine was developed as a prodrug of FU, with the goal of improving tolerability and intratumor drug concentrations through tumor-specific conversion to the active drug.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to review the available information on capecitabine with respect to clinical pharmacology, mechanism of action, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties, clinical efficacy for breast and colorectal cancer adverse-effect profile, documented drug interactions, dosage and administration, and future directions of ongoing research.

Methods: Relevant English-language literature was identified through searches of PubMed (1966 to August 2004), International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1977 to August 2004), and the Proceedings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (January 1995 to August 2004). Search terms included capecitabine, Xeloda, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. The references of the identified articles were reviewed for additional sources. In addition, product information was obtained from Roche Pharmaceuticals. Studies from the identified literature that addressed this article's objectives were selected for review, with preference given to Phase II/III trials.

Results: Capecitabine is an oral prodrug that is converted to its only active metabolite, FU, by thymidine phosphorylase. Higher levels of this enzyme are found in several tumors and the liver, compared with normal healthy tissue. In adults, capecitabine has a bioavailability of approximately 100% with a Cmax of 3.9 mg/L, Tmax of 1.5 to 2 hr, and AUC of 5.96 mg.h/L. The predominant route of elimination is renal, and dosage reduction of 75% is recommended in patients with creatinine clearance (CrCl) of 30 to 50 mL/min. The drug is contraindicated if CrCl is < 30 mL/min. Capecitabine has shown varying degrees of efficacy with acceptable tolerability in numerous cancers including prostate, renal cell, ovarian, and pancreatic, with the largest amount of evidence in metastatic breast and colorectal cancer. Single-agent capecitabine was compared with IV FU/leucovorin (LV) using the bolus Mayo Clinic regimen in 2 Phase III trials as first-line treatment for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Overall response rate (RR) favored the capecitabine arm (26% vs 17%, P < 0.001); however, this did not translate into a difference in time to progression (TTP) (4.6 months vs 4.7 months) or overall survival (OS) (12.9 months vs 12.8 months). In Phase II noncomparative trials, combinations of capecitabine with oxaliplatin or irinotecan have produced results similar to regimens combining FU/LV with the same agents in patients with colorectal cancer. In metastatic breast cancer patients who had received prior treatment with an anthracycline-based regimen, a Phase III trial comparing the combination of capecitabine with docetaxel versus docetaxel alone demonstrated superior objective tumor RR (42% vs 30%, P = 0.006), median TTP (6.1 months vs 4.2 months, P < 0.001), and median OS (14.5 months vs 11.5 months, P = 0.013) with the combination treatment. Noncomparative Phase II studies have also supported efficacy in patients with metastatic breast cancer pretreated with both anthracyclines and taxanes, yielding an overall RR of 15% to 29% and median OS of 9.4 to 15.2 months. The most common dose-limiting adverse effects associated with capecitabine monotherapy are hyperbilirubinemia, diarrhea, and hand-foot syndrome. Myelosuppression, fatigue and weakness, abdominal pain, and nausea have also been reported. Compared with bolus FU/LV, capecitabine was associated with more hand-foot syndrome but less stomatitis, alopecia, neutropenia requiring medical management, diarrhea, and nausea. Capecitabine has been reported to increase serum phenytoin levels and the international normalized ratio in patients receiving concomitant phenytoin and warfarin, respectively. The dose of capecitabine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for both metastatic colorectal and breast cancer is 1250 Mg/M2 given orally twice per day, usually separated by 12 hours for the first 2 weeks of every 3-week cycle.

Conclusions: Capecitabine is currently approved by the FDA for use as first-line therapy in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer when single-agent fluoropyrimidine therapy is preferred. The drug is also approved for use as (1) a single agent in metastatic breast cancer patients who are resistant to both anthracycline- and paclitaxel-based regimens or in whom further anthracycline treatment is contra indicated and (2) in combination with docetaxel after failure of prior anthracycline-based chemotherapy. Single-agent and combination regimens have also shown benefits in patients with prostate, pancreatic, renal cell, and ovarian cancers. Improved tolerability and comparable efficacy compared with IV FU/LV in addition to oral administration make capecitabine an attractive option for the treatment of several types of cancers as well as the focus of future trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic* / adverse effects
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic* / pharmacology
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic* / therapeutic use
  • Capecitabine
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Deoxycytidine* / adverse effects
  • Deoxycytidine* / analogs & derivatives*
  • Deoxycytidine* / pharmacology
  • Deoxycytidine* / therapeutic use
  • Fluorouracil / analogs & derivatives
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prodrugs* / adverse effects
  • Prodrugs* / pharmacology
  • Prodrugs* / therapeutic use


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Prodrugs
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Capecitabine
  • Fluorouracil