Alectinib (Alecensa)

Alectinib is a type of targeted cancer drug. It is also known as Alecensa. You pronounce alectinib as al-ek-ti-nib.

It is a treatment for non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread.

You have alectinib if your cancer has a change (mutation) in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. Your doctor will check for this mutation before you can start this drug.

How does alectinib work?

Alectinib is a type of cancer growth blocker called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It works by blocking certain chemical messengers that tell cells to grow. This stops or slows down the cancer.

How do you have alectinib?

You take alectinib as capsules.

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

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

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Talk to your healthcare team before you stop taking or miss a dose of a cancer drug.

How often do you have alectinib?

You usually take your capsules take twice a day with food.

You usually take alectinib for as long as it is working, and the side effects aren’t too bad.

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.

What are the side effects of alectinib?

Side effects can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatment you are having. 

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist 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.

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

Common side effects

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

Breathlessness and looking pale

You might be breathless and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Constipation 

Constipation Open a glossary item is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your healthcare team if you think you are constipated. They can give you a laxative if needed.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. It might help to avoid fatty or fried foods, eat small meals and snacks and take regular sips of water. Relaxation techniques might also 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 treat it once it has started.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea. For example, in one day you have 2 or more loose bowel movements than usual. If you have a stoma, you might have more output than normal. Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment.

Try to eat small meals and snacks regularly. It’s best to try to have a healthy balanced diet if you can. You don’t necessarily need to stop eating foods that contain fibre. But if your diet is normally very high in fibre, it might help to cut back on high fibre foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, bran and raw vegetables. 

Drink plenty to try and replace the fluid lost. Aim for 8 to 10 glasses per day.

Liver changes

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes.

Rarely the liver can get injured causing it to not work properly.

You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the way your liver is working.

Skin rash

You might have a skin rash. 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.

Joint or muscle pain

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.

Muscle weakness, spasms and pain

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any weakness, spasms or pain in your muscles during or after having treatment. 

Your blood tests might show that you have high levels of an enzyme in your blood called creatinine kinase (CK). This is mainly found in the heart, brain or skeletal muscles.

Your doctor might do a blood test to check why you might have chest pain, muscle aches or pains, muscle tenderness or weakness or dark reddish- brown urine.

Fluid build up (oedema)

A build up of fluid may cause swelling in your arms, hands, ankles, legs, face and other parts of the body. Contact your healthcare team if this happens to you.

Weight gain

You may gain weight while having this treatment. You may be able to control it with diet and exercise. Tell your healthcare team if you are finding it difficult to control your weight. 

Tiredness

Alectinib or the effects of lung cancer can make you feel very tired and as though you lack energy.

Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

Occasional side effects

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

  • changes to your sense of taste

  • problems with your eyesight such as blurred vision, floaters, seeing double, vision loss or eye strain

  • low blood pressure and a slower heart rate (bradycardia)

  • a sore mouth and ulcers

  • increased skin sensitivity to sunlight

  • increased levels of alkaline phosphatase in your blood which can show changes to your liver or bones

  • changes in the way your kidneys work

Rare side effect

Lung problems such as a cough or breathlessness due to inflammation and scarring of the lungs happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%).

Coping with side effects

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

What else do you need to know?

Other medicines, food and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with medicines, herbal products, and some food and drinks. We are unable to list all the possible interactions that may happen. An example is grapefruit or grapefruit juice which can increase the side effects of certain drugs.

Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Also let them know about any other medical conditions or allergies you may have.

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant while you're having treatment and for at least 3 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about contraception before starting treatment.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment. Let them know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant while having treatment.

Breastfeeding

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

Loss of fertility

You may not be able to become pregnant or get someone pregnant 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.    

Treatment for other conditions

If you are having tests or treatment for anything else, always mention your cancer treatment. For example, if you are visiting your dentist.

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 one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.

You can have:

  • other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • the flu vaccine (as an injection)
  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment

Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your immune system Open a glossary item recovers from treatment.

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. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. 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.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment and possible side effects go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website. You can find the patient information leaflet on this website.

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

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