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Denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva)

Read about denosumab, how you have it and other important information about taking this cancer drug. 

Denosumab (pronounced den-oh-sue-mab) is a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. It is made in the laboratory to recognise and find specific proteins on the outside of some cells. Denosumab is also known by its brand names, Xgeva and Prolia. 

It helps to prevent fractures and other cancer related bone problems in adults with cancer that has spread to the bones.

Prolia can reduce the risk of spinal fractures in men who have weakened bones due to hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

It also helps to slow down bone damage in people who have giant cell tumour of the bone (a non cancerous type of bone tumour).  

How it works

In healthy bones, specialised cells constantly break down and replace old tissue. These specialised bone cells are:

  • osteoclasts, which break down old bone
  • osteoblasts, which build new bone

This process is called bone remodelling and is very well controlled. There is a fine balance between the rates of bone breakdown and growth, which keeps bones strong and healthy.

Denosumab works by targeting a protein called RANKL which controls the activity of osteoclasts. This stops bone cells being broken down and strengthens the bone.

How you have it

You have denosumab as an injection just below the skin (subcutaneously).

When you have it

How often you have denosumab depends on the brand.

You have Xgeva every 4 weeks. If you have giant cell tumour of the bone you have an extra dose 1 week and 2 weeks after the first dose.

You have Prolia every 6 months.

Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and regularly during your treatment. The tests check your levels of calcium and other chemicals in the blood.

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.

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.

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:

Low level of calcium in the blood 

Low calcium levels in the blood can cause painful muscle spasms, cramps or muscle twitching. You might also get numbness or tingling in your feet, hands or around your mouth.

Shortness of breath

You might find it difficult to breath or get your breath. Contact your advice line or tell your doctor or nurse. 

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.

Muscle pain

You might have muscle pain during treatment. Let your treatment team know so they can advise you on how to reduce it.

Bone pain

You might experience pain in your bones. Speak to your doctor as they can prescribe medicine to help. 

Occasional side

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:

  • if you are having denosumab because your cancer has spread to the bones there is a small chance you might develop another type of cancer
  • low levels of phosphate in the blood - if you are feeling tired, have sore muscles, lose your appetite, feel irritable or confused contact your advice line or tell your doctor or nurse straight away
  • you might need to have a tooth taken out
  • you might sweat more and more often
  • damage to your jaw bone - signs include ongoing jaw pain, swelling, numbness, heavy feeling in the jaw and loosing of teeth. Contact your advice line or tell your doctor or nurse straight away

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:

  • if you are having denosumab for giant cell tumour of the bone you might have high levels of calcium in the blood after you stop treatment
  • a rash skin or sores in the mouth
  • new or unusual pain in your hip, groin or thigh this could be a fracture of your thigh bone

Other side effects

There isn't enough information to work out how often this side effect might happen.

  • damage to the bones in the ear - signs are ear pain, discharge from the ear with or without an infection. Contact your advice line or tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have any of these symptoms

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.

Sorbitol

This drug contains a type of sugar called sorbitol. If you have an intolerance to some sugars, ask your doctor if it is safe for you to take this drug.

Pregnancy and contraception

This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 5 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Fertility

It is not known whether this treatment affects fertility in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

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.

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.

Information and help