Brentuximab

Brentuximab is a type of targeted cancer drug Open a glossary item called a monoclonal antibody Open a glossary item. You pronounce brentuximab as bren-toox-e-mab.

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 does brentuximab work?

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 do you have brentuximab?

You have brentuximab into the bloodstream (intravenous).

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

How often do you have brentuximab?

You have brentuximab as a drip (infusion) over 30 minutes. You have it in cycles of treatment Open a glossary item. Each cycle of treatment is 3 weeks. You can have up to 16 cycles of treatment.

You might have brentuximab by itself or in combination with other cancer drugs.

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 brentuximab?

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

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, pharmacist 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 healthcare team immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

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:

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.

Decreased appetite or weight loss

You might not feel like eating and may lose weight. Eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day can be easier to manage. You can talk to a dietitian if you are concerned about your appetite or weight loss. 

Breathing problems

You may have difficulty breathing with wheezing and coughing. Let your healthcare team know straight away if this happens. 

Constipation or diarrhoea

Tell your healthcare team if you have diarrhoea or constipation. They can give you medicine to help. 

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. 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.

High temperature (fever) and chills

If you get a high temperature, let your healthcare 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 healthcare team can 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 healthcare team 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. 

Immediate effects after having brentuximab (infusion related)

You might have a rash, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, a cough, a tight chest, fever, back pain, chills, headache, feeling sick or being sick.

These can happen within a few minutes or up to several hours after having brentuximab. This can be life threatening. Contact the advice line or your healthcare team if you have any of these symptoms.

You might have some medication before having brentuximab to stop an infusion reaction happening.

Occasional side effects

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

  • an allergic reaction that can cause a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face and dizziness. Some allergic reactions can be life threatening, alert your nurse or doctor if notice any of these symptoms.
  • 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 or loss
  • high blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia)
  • dizziness

Rare side effects

These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 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
  • changes to the levels of chemicals in your blood due to the breakdown of tumour cells (tumour lysis syndrome). You have regular blood tests to check for this.
  • weakness and reduced sensation in the arms and legs that continues to get worse

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, foods 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 may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or get someone pregnant while you're having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

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

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.    

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. For example, 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 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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