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Vemurafenib (Zelboraf)

Find out what vemurafenib is, how you have it and other important information about taking vemurafenib.

Vemurafenib is a targeted cancer drug (biological therapy) and is also known by its brand name Zelboraf. 

It is a treatment for melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body, or that cannot be removed by surgery.   

How it works

Vemurafenib is a type of targeted cancer drug called a cancer growth blocker. It stops cells producing a protein called BRAF, which makes some cancer cells grow and divide. 

About half (about 50%) of all melanomas make too much BRAF proteins. This is due to a change in the BRAF gene. Vemurafenib is used in people with melanoma whose cancer cells have a change in the BRAF gene.

You usually have a test to check for the gene change before starting treatment with vemurafenib.

How you have it

Vemurafenib comes as tablets. You take it twice a day, 12 hours apart. 

The usual dose is 4 tablets in the morning and 4 tablets in the evening. You swallow the tablets whole with a glass of water. It is best to take them with food, or shortly after eating. 

Taking your tablets

You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Speak to your pharmacist if you have problems swallowing the tablets.

Whether you have a full or an empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, no more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

Talk to your doctor immediately. 

Take it straight away if less than 4 hours have passed. 

Do not take the tablets if it has been more than 4 hours. Take your next tablets at the usual time. Don't take a double dose to make up for the missed one. 

When you have it

You usually carry on taking vemurafenib for as long as it works unless the side effects get too bad.

Tests during treatment

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

Important information

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 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 6 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Fertility

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.

Some men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Some women might be able to store eggs or embryos before treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.

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 at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and 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)
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid close contact with people who’ve recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as oral polio or the typhoid vaccine.

This also includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s poo for up to 2 weeks and could make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.

You should also avoid close contact with children who have had the flu vaccine nasal spray if your immune system is severely weakened. 

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

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