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Brentuximab (Adcetris)

Brentuximab is a cancer treatment drug. It is also known by its full name brentuximab vedotin and its brand name, Adcetris.

It is a treatment for:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • a type of non Hodgkin lymphoma called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL)
  • cutaneous T cell lymphoma

How it works

Brentuximab is a type of monoclonal antibody. Monoclonal antibodies (MABs) are copies of a single antibody. They are made in the laboratory. Monoclonal antibodies seek out cancer cells by targeting particular proteins on the cell surface.

Brentuximab targets a protein called CD30 that is found on Hodgkin lymphoma and anaplastic large cell lymphoma cells. Brentuximab sticks to the CD30 protein and delivers a drug to the cell. The drug then kills the cell.

How you have it

You have brentuximab into your bloodstream (intravenously).

You can have the drug through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

Or you might have it through a long line: a central line, a PICC line or a portacath.

These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.

When you have brentuximab

You have brentuximab as a drip (infusion) over 30 minutes. 

How often you have brentuximab depends on:

  • your cancer type
  • whether you are also having chemotherapy 
  • your side effects

Tests

You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

We haven't listed all the side effects. It is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatment you are having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you are also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

This treatment affects the immune system. This may cause inflammation in different parts of the body which can cause serious side effects. They could happen during treatment, or some months after treatment has finished. In some people, these side effects could be life threatening.

When to contact your team

Your doctor or nurse will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Increased risk of getting an infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

Pain in back, muscles or joints 

You might feel some pain from your muscles and joints. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.

Loss of appetite or weight

You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

Breathing problems

You may have difficulty breathing with wheezing and coughing. Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if this happens. 

Allergic reaction

A reaction may happen during the infusion, causing a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills. Your nurse will give you medicines beforehand to try to prevent a reaction. Tell your nurse or doctor immediately if at any time you feel unwell. They will slow or stop your drip for a while.

Constipation

Constipation is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your doctor or nurse if you are constipated for more than 3 days. They can prescribe a laxative.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.

Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue)

Tiredness and weakness (fatigue) can happen during and after treatment - doing gentle exercises each day can keep your energy up. Don't push yourself, rest when you start to feel tired and ask others for help.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

High temperature (fever) and chills

If you get a high temperature, let your health care team know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.

Skin rash

Skin problems include a skin rash, dry skin and itching. This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes. Your nurse will tell you what products you can use on your skin to help.

Numbness or tingling in hands or feet 

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your doctor if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons. 

Tummy (abdominal) pain

Tell your treatment team if you have this. They can check the cause and give you medicine to help. 

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (1 to 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • breathlessness and looking pale due to a drop in red blood cells
  • bruising, bleeding gums or nosebleeds due to a drop in platelets
  • liver changes
  • hair thinning
  • high blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia)
  • dizziness

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • a severe skin reaction that may start as tender red patches which leads to peeling or blistering of the skin. You might also feel feverish and your eyes may be more sensitive to light. This is serious and could be life threatening
  • high uric acid levels
  • inflammation of the pancreas
  • severe allergic reaction which can be life threatening

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do I need to know?

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you're having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

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.

Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.    

Breastfeeding

It is not known whether this drug comes through into the breast milk. Doctors usually advise that you don’t breastfeed during this treatment.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and the shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine (as an injection)

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

Sodium

This drug contains sodium (salt). You might need to take account of this if you are on a controlled sodium diet. Tell your doctor if you are on a low salt diet. 

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Last reviewed: 
02 Dec 2019
  • Brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®) 50 mg powder for concentrate for solution for infusion

    All Wales Medicine Strategy Group, 2015

  • Brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris®) 50mg powder for concentrate for solution for infusion

    Scottish Medicines Consortium, 2014

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium

    Accessed August 2019

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