This page tells you about the possible side effects of the biological therapy axitinib (pronounced ax-it-tin-ib). There are sections about
Axitinib is also called by its brand name Inlyta. It is a type of drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which is a cancer growth blocker. It blocks certain proteins called tyrosine kinases from acting on cells. Tyrosine kinases signal to cancer cells to grow.
Axitinib blocks different types of tyrosine kinase and is called a multi kinase inhibitor. It stops cancer cells forming blood vessels, which the cancer needs in order to grow. This is called anti angiogenesis treatment.
Axitinib is a treatment for advanced kidney cancer. You may also have it as part of a clinical trial for other cancers including soft tissue sarcoma and thyroid cancer.
Axitinib comes as red tablets. You take them twice a day, about 12 hours apart. You should swallow the tablets whole with a glass of water. You can take them with or without food. You usually carry on taking axitinib for as long as it works.
You may start on a low dose and your doctor may increase the dose after 2 weeks, depending on how you feel.
It is very important that you take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gave you. You should take the right dose, not more or less. And never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.
The side effects of axitinib are listed below. Click on the underlined links to get information about managing each side effect. For general information about side effects go to our cancer drug side effects section or use the search at the top of the page.
More than 10 in 100 people have one or more of these effects.
- Diarrhoea happens in about half of the people having this drug (50%). Drink plenty of fluids and tell your doctor or nurse if it becomes severe or continues for more than 3 days
- Raised blood pressure (hypertension) happens in about 4 out of 10 people (40%)
- Feeling or being sick affects about 3 out of every 10 people (30%) but it is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines
- Loss of appetite happens in 3 out of 10 people (30%)
- Tummy (abdominal) pain
- Aching or pain in joints
- Tiredness and weakness affects about 3 in 10 people (30%) during and after treatment
- Some people develop soreness, redness and peeling on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (palmar–plantar syndrome). This may cause tingling, numbness, pain and dryness
- Hoarseness or a soft voice happens in about 3 out of 10 people (30%)
- A drop in the level of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) happens in just under 2 in 10 people (20%). You may feel tired or cold, or your voice may deepen. You will have regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels
- A sore mouth, tongue or throat happens in about 1 in 10 people (10%)
- An increased risk of bleeding, including nosebleeds and bleeding gums. If you notice blood in bowel movements or vomit, contact your doctor or nurse straight away
- Taste changes or loss of taste
- Weight loss
Between 1 and 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these effects.
- Tiredness and breathlessness due to a drop in red blood cells (anaemia) – you may need a blood transfusion
- Low levels of platelets in the blood – you may have nosebleeds, or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae)
- High levels of platelets leading to blood clots. This happens in around 2 out of 100 people (2%). If it happens to you, you will have treatment to thin your blood, dissolve any clots, and stop any more developing
- Constipation happens in 1 out of 10 people (10%) – your doctor or nurse may give you laxatives to help prevent this but do tell them if you are constipated for more than 3 days
- Skin changes – about 1 in 10 people (10%) have a rash or red, dry, itchy skin
- Hair thinning
- Skin flushing
- Shortness of breath and a cough
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) – this usually gets better after your treatment ends
- Muscle pain
- Mild effects on the liver and kidneys which are unlikely to cause any symptoms and will usually go back to normal after the treatment ends. You will have regular blood tests to check how your liver and kidneys are working
- An overactive thyroid gland – let your doctor know if you feel hot, sweaty, agitated, are losing weight, and have problems concentrating and sleeping
- Swollen abdomen, legs or ankles
- Eyesight changes
Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these
- An increased risk of getting an infection from a drop in white blood cells – it is harder to fight infections and you can become very ill. You may have headaches, aching muscles, a cough, a sore throat, pain passing urine, or you may feel cold and shivery. If you have a severe infection this can be life threatening. Contact your treatment centre straight away if you have any of these effects or if your temperature goes above 38°C. You will have regular blood tests to check your blood cell levels
- A split in the wall of the bowel (bowel perforation) is very rare but is a serious side effect if it happens
- A higher than usual number of red blood cells
You may have a few of the side effects mentioned on this page. A side effect may get worse through your course of treatment. Or you may have more side effects as the course goes on. This depends on
- How many times you've had a drug before
- Your general health
- How much of the drug you have (the dose)
- Other drugs you are having
Coping with side effects
Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so they can help you manage them. They can give you advice or reassure you. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them.
Other medicines and foods
Tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Some drugs can react together.
Avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice because they can increase the side effects.
Pregnancy and contraception
This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant while you are having treatment and for a week afterwards. Men should not father a child during treatment or for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
Do not breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in the breast milk.
We don’t know how this treatment might affect fertility. You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.
Axitinib tablets contain lactose (milk sugar). If you have an intolerance to lactose, contact your doctor before taking this medicine.
Slow wound healing
Axitinib can slow wound healing. If you need to have an operation you may need to stop taking it for a while beforehand. Your doctor will let you know when you can start taking it again.
You should not have immunisations with live vaccines while you are having treatment or for at least 6 months afterwards. In the UK, these include rubella, mumps, measles (usually given together as MMR), BCG, yellow fever and Zostavax (shingles vaccine).
You can have other vaccines, but they may not give you as much protection as usual until your immune system has fully recovered from your treatment. It is safe to have the flu vaccine.
It is safe for you to be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections. There can be problems with vaccines you take by mouth (oral vaccines), but not many people in the UK have these now. So there is usually no problem in being with any baby or child who has recently had any vaccination in the UK. You might need to make sure that you aren't in contact with anyone who has had oral polio, cholera or typhoid vaccination recently, particularly if you live abroad.
This information does not list all the very rare side effects of this treatment that are very unlikely to affect you. For further information look at the Electronic Medicines Compendium website at www.medicines.org.uk/emc.
If you have a side effect not mentioned here that you think may be due to this treatment you can report it to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) at www.mhra.gov.uk.
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