Imatinib (Glivec ®)
Imatinib (Glivec ®) is a targeted therapy used to treat some types of leukaemia, blood disorders and cancers.
Imatinib, also known as Glivec ®, is a targeted therapy. It is used to treat some types of leukaemia, blood disorders and cancers. It’s best to read this with our information about the type of cancer you have.
Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Tyrosine kinases are important proteins in the body that regulate how cells grow and divide. Imatinib works by blocking (inhibiting) signals in the cancer cells that make them grow and divide. Blocking the signals causes the cells to die.
Imatinib may be used to treat:
chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), a cancer of white blood cells
a type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) called Philadelphia chromosome positive (Ph+ALL)
blood disorders where some blood cells grow out of control (myelodysplastic and myeloproliferative conditions)
blood disorders where blood cells called eosinophils grow out of control (advanced hypereosinophilic syndrome and chronic eosinophilic leukaemia).
It may also used to treat:
gastro-intestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), a rare type of cancer of the supporting tissue of the bowel or stomach
dermato fibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), a rare type of cancer of the tissue under the skin
other types of cancers as part of a clinical trial.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) gives advice on which new drugs or treatments should be available on the NHS in England and Wales. In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) gives advice on the use of new drugs or treatments in the NHS. NICE and SMC both recommend the use of imatinib in certain situations. But on other occasions they have not approved it. Your doctor can give you more information about this.
If you live in Northern Ireland, you can speak to your cancer specialist about whether imatinib is recommended to treat your type of cancer.
If imatinib isn’t available on the NHS in your area, it may not be recommended for you. But you might be given it as part of a clinical trial. We have more information on what you can do if a treatment isn’t available.
Imatinib is a dark yellow to brownish-orange tablet. It comes in two strengths: 100mg (round tablet) and 400mg (oval tablet).
Imatinib is usually taken once a day. People taking a higher dose (800mg a day) usually take this in two doses of 400mg. You should take the tablets with a meal and a large glass of water. You will usually take imatinib for as long as you are benefitting from it.
Tell your doctor if you find it difficult to swallow the tablets. They may suggest that you dissolve them in still water or apple juice. To do this, dissolve the tablets in the liquid. It should measure about 50ml for a 100mg tablet and 200ml for a 400mg tablet. Stir with a spoon until the tablets are completely dissolved and drink immediately. Wash the glass and spoon straight away.
Contact the hospital if you are sick just after taking the tablets. You may need to take another dose. If you forget to take a tablet, take it as soon as you remember, unless it is nearly time for your next dose. It’s important that you don’t take a double dose. Keep to your regular schedule and let your doctor or nurse know.
Here are some other things to remember about your tablets:
Keep them in the original package at room temperature away from heat and direct sunlight.
Keep them safe and out of the reach of children.
Return any remaining tablets to the pharmacist if your treatment is stopped.
Possible side effects of imatinib
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We have explained the most common side effects of imatinib. We haven't included those that are rare and unlikely to affect you. If you notice any effects that aren't listed here, discuss them with your doctor or specialist nurse.
The side effects of imatinib are generally mild or moderate. They often happen during the first month of treatment and may get better after this.
Your doctor will regularly check whether the medicine is working while you are taking imatinib. You will have regular blood tests and your weight will be checked.
Each person’s reaction to treatment is different. Some people have very few side effects, while others may experience more. The side effects described here won't affect everyone having this treatment.
Feeling sick (nausea)
This is usually mild. Your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to prevent or reduce sickness and vomiting. Taking imatinib with food also helps. Tell your doctor if the sickness isn't controlled or if it continues. They can prescribe other anti-sickness drugs that may work better for you.
Some anti-sickness drugs can cause constipation. Let your doctor or nurse know if this is a problem.
Imatinib can cause diarrhoea. This can usually be controlled with medicine. Tell your doctor if it's severe or continues. It's important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhoea.
Imatinib can cause headaches. If you have headaches, tell your doctor or nurse. They can give you a suitable painkiller.
Tell your doctor if these are troublesome. They can recommend drugs to relieve any discomfort.
Build-up of fluid
This is fairly common. It’s not harmful, but can be upsetting. Many people gain weight or develop swelling around the eyes and ankles because of fluid build-up. Drugs that make you pass more urine (diuretics) can help get rid of some of the fluid, but it often settles down by itself. Let your doctor know if you put on a lot of weight very quickly.
Effect on blood cells
Imatinib can reduce the number of blood cells in your blood. Your doctor or nurse will give you regular blood tests to check the numbers of blood cells in your blood.
Risk of infection
If you have a low number of white blood cells, you are more likely to get an infection. Your doctor or nurse will advise you how to reduce your risk of infection if this happens. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking your tablets for a short time, until your white blood cell numbers recover. They may also ask you to take a lower dose of imatinib.
Contact the hospital straight away if:
your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5° F) or over 38°C (100.4° F), depending on the advice given by your healthcare team
you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
you have symptoms of an infection – this can include feeling shaky, a sore throat, a cough, diarrhoea or needing to pass urine a lot.
Bruising and bleeding
Imatinib can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor if you have any bruising or bleeding you can’t explain. This includes nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots or rashes on the skin.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
Imatinib can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. If the number of red blood cells is low, you may be tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this.
Effects on the eyes
Imatinib can cause eye pain, dry or watery eyes or changes in vision. Tell your doctor if your eyes are affected. You should be careful when driving or operating machinery if your vision has changed.
Some people develop an itchy rash. It’s important to let your doctor know if this happens. They can prescribe medicine to help.
Changes in sense of taste or loss of appetite
You may notice changes in your sense of taste or lose your appetite while you’re having imatinib. This can be mild and may only last a few days. You can ask to see a dietitian or specialist nurse at your hospital if it doesn’t improve. They can give you advice on improving your appetite and coping with taste changes.
Tell your doctor if you are finding it difficult to sleep.
You may feel more tired than usual during and after your treatment. Try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. It can help to balance this with some gentle exercise, such as short walks. If you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
It’s important to let your doctor know straight away if you feel unwell or have any severe side effects, even if they’re not mentioned above.
Other information about imatinib
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Some medicines, including those you can buy in a shop or chemist, can be harmful when you are taking imatinib. They may make imatinib less effective or increase the side effects it can cause. Tell your doctor and check with your pharmacist about any medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
If you have heart problems, these may be made worse by imatinib. Your doctor will monitor you throughout your treatment to check for any problems. Speak to your doctor immediately if you have chest pains or any worsening symptoms.
Imatinib may affect your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, you can talk to your doctor before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise women not to become pregnant during their treatment. This is because imatinib may harm a developing baby. It’s important to use contraception during, and for several months after, treatment. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
Women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months afterwards. This is in case there is any trace of imatinib in their breast milk.
If you need to go into hospital for any reason, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having treatment with imatinib. You shouldn’t stop or restart imatinib without advice from your cancer doctor. Tell them the name of your cancer doctor so they can ask them for advice.
It’s a good idea to know who you can contact if you have any problems or experience side effects when you’re at home. During office hours, you can contact the clinic where you had your treatment. Your specialist nurse or doctor will tell you who to contact during the evening or at weekends.
This page has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC; medicines.org.uk). If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us.
This information was reviewed by a medical professional.
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