Panitumumab (Vectibix ®)
Panitumumab (Vectibix ®) is a targeted therapy drug. It is mainly used to treat advanced bowel cancer.
Panitumumab (Vectibix ®) is a targeted therapy drug that is mainly used to treat advanced bowel cancer.
It’s best to read this information with our general information about the type of cancer you have.
During treatment, you will see a cancer doctor or nurse. This is who we mean when we mention a doctor or nurse in this information.
Panitumumab belongs to a group of cancer drugs known as monoclonal antibodies. These drugs are sometimes called targeted therapies. They work by ‘targeting’ specific proteins (receptors) on the surface of cells.
Certain cancers have large numbers of receptors on their surface, called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs). When the receptors are activated, they trigger the cancer cells to grow. Panitumumab locks on to the EGFRs. This stops them stimulating the cancer cells to grow. It is most likely to work for cancers with large numbers of EGFRs on their surface.
When treating bowel cancer, panitumumab only works on bowel cancers that have a normal RAS gene. Before panitumumab is used, doctors test the bowel cancer cells for changes (mutations) in the RAS gene.
When panitumumab is used
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Panitumumab can be used to treat people with bowel cancer that has spread to other areas of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer).
It can be given with chemotherapy. Or, it can also be given on its own (known as monotherapy) after chemotherapy treatments have been tried.
Panitumumab may only be available in some situations. Your cancer doctor can tell you if it's appropriate for you. Some people may be given it as part of a clinical trial. If a drug isn’t available on the NHS, there may be different ways you are still able to have it. Your cancer doctor can give you advice. We have further information on what to do if a treatment isn’t available.
How panitumumab is given
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A nurse gives you panitumumab as a drip into a vein (called an intravenous infusion). It’s usually given once every two weeks. The first infusion is given slowly, usually over about 60 minutes.
If you don’t have a reaction to the infusion, further infusions will be given over 30–60 minutes.
Some people are given higher doses of panitumumab. These infusions are given over about 90 minutes.
Possible side effects of panitumumab
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We have included the most common side effects of panitumumab here. We haven’t included all the less common and rarer side effects. You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you will not get them all.
If you have chemotherapy with panitumumab, some side effects may be worse. You may also have side effects not listed here. We have more information about chemotherapy.
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist has explained. This will help the drugs work as well as possible for you.
Your nurse will give you advice about managing side effects. After your treatment is over, the side effects will start to improve. Always tell your doctor or nurse about the side effects you have.
Serious and life-threatening side effects
Sometimes cancer drugs can result in very serious side effects, which rarely may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor and nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.
Side effects during infusion
Some people (about 1 in 20) have an allergic reaction to panitumumab. It is most likely to happen when the drug is being given or for up to an hour afterwards. You may be given drugs before the infusion to reduce the chance of a reaction happening.
If you have a reaction, the nurses usually treat this by slowing the infusion. You’ll have the rest of your treatments given at a slower rate. A reaction is usually mild but rarely can be more severe.
You’ll be monitored closely during treatment, but tell your nurse or doctor if you feel unwell or have any of the following symptoms:
flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, feeling flushed, or having a fever, chills or dizziness
red, warm and itchy bumps on the skin (like nettle rash)
a feeling of swelling in the lips, tongue or throat
breathlessness, wheezing, a cough or sudden difficulty breathing
tight chest or chest pain.
Rarely, people may get a reaction up to 24 hours or more after treatment. If you develop any of the symptoms above or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away for advice.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. You can call them if you feel unwell or need advice any time of day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
More information about this drug
We’re not able to list every side effect for this treatment here, particularly the rarer ones. For more detailed information you can visit the electronic medicines compendium (eMC).
Common side effects of panitumumab
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Skin and nail changes
Most people having treatment with panitumumab will have skin changes during treatment.
The most common side effect is an acne-like rash that mainly affects the face, neck and body. This usually begins during the first 2–3 weeks of treatment and goes away within a few weeks once treatment ends.
Your skin may also become dry, itchy or scaly and may feel tender. The skin around your nails may become red and sore. Your nails may become brittle and break.
If you have very severe skin problems, your doctor may lengthen the time between treatments or lower the dose of panitumumab.
Very rarely, people may have a severe skin reaction. The symptoms can include large blisters, peeling skin or sores in your mouth. You may also have a fever (high temperature). You must contact the hospital straight away if this happens as it may cause very serious problems.
Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and prescribe creams for your skin or medicines to help. If you have severe skin problems, they may lengthen the time in between your treatments or lower the dose.
Here are some tips to help reduce the effects on your skin:
Wash with tepid water and mild, non-scented soap.
Moisturise your skin regularly with unperfumed moisturisers – ask your doctor or nurse what’s best.
Don’t use anti-acne products or products that contain alcohol on your skin.
If you want to wear make-up to disguise the rash, choose a hypoallergenic brand such as Dermablend ®.
Wear sunscreen with high protection against UVA rays and a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 when in the sun. Try to cover up with clothing and a hat as much as possible to protect your skin. If you're having radiotherapy, ask your cancer specialist for advice before applying any creams or lotions to this area.
Wear rubber gloves for housework and gardening.
Effect on blood cells
Panitumumab can reduce the number of white and red blood cells in your blood. This is more likely if you are having chemotherapy at the same time. You will have regular blood tests done to check the numbers of blood cells. Occasionally, it may be necessary to delay your treatment until these levels recover.
Risk of infection
If you have a low number of white blood cells, you are more likely to get an infection. If this happens during your treatment, your doctor or nurse will advise you how to reduce your risk of infection.
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.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
Panitumumab 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.
Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)
Your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness drugs to prevent or greatly reduce nausea and vomiting. If the sickness isn't controlled, or if it continues, tell your doctor. They can prescribe other anti-sickness drugs that may work better for you.
Diarrhoea or constipation
You may have diarrhoea or tummy pain. Some people become constipated, but this is less common. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help. If you are also having chemotherapy diarrhoea may be more severe. Follow any instructions the hospital give you. Make sure you drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of clear fluids every day if you have diarrhoea or constipation.
Feeling tired is a common side effect, especially towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it’s over. It’s important to try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need.
Try to balance this with taking some gentle exercise, such as short walks. If you feel drowsy, don’t operate machinery or drive.
Sore mouth and ulcers
Your mouth may become sore and you may get ulcers. This can make you more likely to get an infection in your mouth. Gently clean your teeth and/or dentures morning and night and after meals. Use a soft-bristled or children’s toothbrush. Your nurse might ask you to rinse your mouth regularly or use mouthwashes. It’s important to follow any advice you are given and to drink plenty of fluids.
Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any problems with your mouth. They can prescribe medicines to prevent or treat mouth infections and reduce any soreness.
Hair and eyelash changes
These changes may develop after three months or more. Your eyelashes may grow longer and more curly than usual. Men may notice they have less beard growth. You may notice your head and body hair is finer, curlier or more brittle.
Some people have hair loss. If this happens, it usually develops gradually over several months. These changes are usually temporary and gradually improve once treatment is over. We have more information about coping with hair loss.
Your eyes may become watery and feel sore and may become more sensitive to light. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops to help with this. If your eyes get red and inflamed (conjunctivitis), tell your doctor. This is because you may need antibiotic eye drops. This drug may also cause blurry vision or eye pain. Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have eye pain or notice any change in your vision.
Indigestion or loss of appetite
Some people have indigestion or acid reflux (acid that comes up from the stomach into the gullet). Tell your doctor if you are affected as they can prescribe treatment to help.
You may lose your appetite during your treatment. Try to eat small meals regularly. Don’t worry if you don’t eat much for a day or two. If your appetite doesn’t improve after a few days, let your nurse or dietitian know. They can give you advice on getting more calories and protein in your diet. They may give you food supplements or meal replacement drinks to try. Your doctor can prescribe some of these and you can buy them from chemists.
Breathing problems or a cough
This is usually mild but may be more severe if you have an existing lung problem. Let your doctor know if you develop a cough or notice any increase in breathlessness.
Reduced levels of magnesium, potassium or calcium in the blood
You will have regular blood tests to check this. Your doctor may prescribe you supplements if the levels are too low.
Some people have back pain while having treatment with panitumumab. Ask your doctor for advice about painkillers if this is a problem for you.
Less common and rare side effects of panitumumab
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Build up of fluid in the feet and ankles
Your ankles and legs may swell because of fluid building up. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. The swelling gets better after your treatment ends.
Sleeplessness (insomnia) and anxiety
Some people have problems sleeping or feel anxious during treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice these symptoms.
Sore hands and feet
Some people develop redness of the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. Sometimes the hands and feet become sore or swollen. There may also be changes of sensation, such as numbness or tingling.
This is called palmar-plantar, or hand-foot syndrome, and will get better when treatment ends. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice and prescribe creams to improve the symptoms. It can help to keep your hands and feet cool and to avoid tight-fitting socks, shoes and gloves.
Raised blood sugar levels
Panitumumab may raise your blood sugar levels. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include:
needing to pass urine more often
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this.
Panitumumab may cause a blood clot. This may cause symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in a leg, or breathlessness and chest pain. Blood clots can be very serious, so it’s important to tell your doctor straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. Most clots can be treated with drugs that thin the blood. The doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Changes in blood pressure
Sometimes panitumumab can affect blood pressure, which may become higher or lower than normal. Tell your nurse or doctor if you have headaches or feel dizzy as these can be signs of blood pressure changes.
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.
Additional information about panitumumab
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Some medicines, including those that you can buy from a shop or pharmacy, can be harmful to take when you’re taking panitumumab. Tell your doctor about any medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs. If you need to buy any medicines over the counter tell your pharmacist you are receiving panitumumab treatment.
A woman’s ability to become pregnant may be affected by having this treatment. It's important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.
It's not advisable to become pregnant while having panitumumab, as it may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception while having this drug, and for two months after the last dose. You can discuss this with your doctor.
There is a potential risk that panitumumab may be present in breast milk, so women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for two months after the last dose.
If panitumumab affects your concentration or vision, do not drive while on this treatment.
Medical or dental treatment
If you need to go into hospital for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are taking panitumumab. Tell them the name of your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.
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 healthcare professional.
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