Cetuximab (brand name- Erbitux) is an FDA-approved treatment used with or without radiation for head and neck cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or other parts of the body. Cetuximab is also used alone or in combination with other medications to treat a certain type of cancer of the colon (large intestine) or rectum.
It is in a class of medications called monoclonal antibodies. It works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells.
Let us walk you through the key things you need to know about Cetuximab.
Make sure you read the IMPORTANT WARNING section at the end of this article.
How should I take cetuximab (Erbitux)?
Cetuximab comes as a solution (liquid) to be injected slowly into a vein. Cetuximab is given by a doctor or nurse in a medical facility.
The solution is usually given every 1 to 2 weeks for as long as your doctor recommends that you receive treatment.
Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling during your treatment. Do not stop taking treatment without talking to your doctor. You can help them by tracking your side effects in Ankr.
What are the side effects of cetuximab or Erbitux?
Common side effects
- acne-like rash
- dry or cracking skin
- swelling, pain, or changes in the fingernails or toenails
- red, watery, or itchy eye(s)
- red or swollen eyelid(s)
- hair loss
- increased hair growth on head, face, eyelashes, or chest
- chapped lips
- numbness, tingling, pain, or burning in arms or legs
- dry mouth
- sores on lips, mouth, or throat
- sore throat
- change in ability to taste food
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- joint pain
- bone pain
- pain, redness, or swelling at the place the medication was injected
Cetuximab may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while using this medication. If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online or by phone (1-800-332-1088).
What special precautions should I follow?
Before receiving treatment with cetuximab or Erbitux
- tell your doctor about your allergies
- tell your doctor about other intakes
- tell your doctor if you have or have ever had heart disease.
- tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Talk to your doctor about birth control methods you can use during treatment.
While you are on cetuximab or Erbitux
- If you become pregnant while you are receiving cetuximab, call your doctor. Cetuximab may harm the fetus.
- tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding. Your should not breastfeed during your treatment with cetuximab
- you should know that this medication may decrease fertility in women. Talk to your doctor about the risks of receiving cetuximab.
- plan to avoid unnecessary or prolonged exposure to sunlight and to wear protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen during your treatment with cetuximab and for 2 months after your treatment.
I forgot a dose. What should I do?
If you miss an appointment to receive a dose of cetuximab, call your doctor right away.
In case of an emergency/overdose
In case of overdose, call the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222. Information is also available online at https://www.poisonhelp.org/help. If the victim has collapsed, had a seizure, has trouble breathing, or can’t be awakened, immediately call emergency services at 911.
What special dietary instructions should I follow?
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, continue your normal diet.
Last Revised – 06/09/2023, FDA updated- 07/15/2021, SG
Cetuximab may cause severe or life-threatening reactions while you receive the medication. These reactions are more common with the first dose of cetuximab but may occur at any time during treatment. Your doctor will watch you carefully while you receive each dose of cetuximab and for at least 1 hour afterward. Tell your doctor if you are allergic to red meat, or if you have ever been bitten by a tick.
If you experience any of the following symptoms during or after your infusion tell your doctor immediately: sudden difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing or noisy breathing, swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, lips or throat, hoarseness, hives, fainting, dizziness, nausea, fever, chills, or chest pain or pressure. If you experience any of these symptoms your doctor may slow down or stop your infusion and treat the symptoms of the reaction. You may not be able to receive treatment with cetuximab in the future.
People with a head and neck cancer who are treated with radiation therapy and cetuximab may have an increased risk of cardiopulmonary arrest (condition in which the heart stops beating and breathing stops) and sudden death during or after their treatment. Tell your doctor if you have or have ever had coronary artery disease (condition that occurs when the blood vessels of the heart are narrowed or clogged by fat or cholesterol deposits); heart failure (condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the other parts of the body); irregular heartbeat; other heart disease; or lower than normal levels of magnesium, potassium, or calcium in your blood.
Keep all appointments with your doctor and the laboratory. Your doctor will order certain tests during and after your treatment to check your body’s response to cetuximab.
Talk to your doctor about the risks of using cetuximab.
Get 24×7 support for cetuximab (Erbitux)
Don’t go through your cancer journey alone. Use Ankr to:
(1) find the best treatment for your cancer, and
(2) get advanced warning to cut side effects by upto 52%
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