What is ceritinib (Zykadia®)?

Ceritinib (Zykadia®) is a targeted therapy drug used to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

It is only used if tests show the cancer cells have a gene change (mutation). This change affects a gene called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK). NSCLC that has this gene change is called ALK-positive NSCLC.

It is best to read this information with our general information about targeted therapies and the type of cancer you have.

Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

How ceritinib is given

You will be given ceritinib as an outpatient.

During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a cancer nurse or specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that your blood cells are at a safe level to have treatment. The blood test will also check how well your kidneys and liver are working.

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have treatment. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your targeted therapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.

The drug is given as tablets (orally).

Taking ceritinib tablets

The nurse or pharmacist will give you the ceritinib tablets to take at home. They may also give you drugs to prevent sickness or diarrhoea, and other medicines to take home. 

Take all your drugs exactly as they have been explained to you. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible. You usually keep taking ceritinib as long as it is effective and as long as its side effects are manageable. 

You take ceritinib once a day with food. Take your tablets at the same time every day. You must swallow them whole, with a glass of water. You should not chew or crush them. 

If you are unable to eat, you may need to take a different dose of ceritinib. Your cancer doctor will explain how and when to take your tablets. Do not change your dose unless your cancer doctor tells you to. 

You should not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while you are taking ceritinib. Grapefruit can cause harmful levels of ceritinib in your blood.

You should not take drugs that treat heartburn or indigestion at the same time as ceritinib. These may stop ceritinib from working as well. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice about how and when to take any drugs for heartburn.  

If you forget to take the tablets, you should take the missed dose as soon as possible. But if more than 12 hours have gone by, do not take the missed dose. Let your doctor or nurse know and take the next dose at the usual time.

Other things to remember about your tablets:

  • Wash your hands after taking your tablets.
  • Other people should avoid direct contact with the drugs.
  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
  • If you are sick just after taking the tablets, contact the hospital. Do not take another dose.
  • If your treatment is stopped, return any unused tablets to the pharmacist.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.

Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

More information

We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.

Common side effects

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause severe diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is usual for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual.

Your hospital team may give you anti-diarrhoea drugs to take at home.

If you have diarrhoea or a mild increase in stoma activity:

  • follow any advice from your cancer team about taking anti-diarrhoea drugs
  • drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.

Contact the hospital straight away if:

  • you have diarrhoea at night
  • you have diarrhoea more than 4 times in a day
  • you have a moderate or severe increase in stoma activity
  • the anti-diarrhoea drugs do not work within 24 hours.

You may need to go to hospital to have fluids through a drip.

Feeling sick

You may feel sick during this treatment. Your doctor will give you anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist tells you. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.

If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids and eat small amounts often. If you continue to feel sick, or if you vomit more than once in 24 hours, contact the hospital straight away. They will give you advice and may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect the way the heart works. Contact a doctor straight away if you:

  • have pain or tightness in your chest
  • feel breathless or dizzy
  • feel your heart is beating too fast or too slowly.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

High blood sugar

This treatment can cause high blood sugar. You will have blood tests to check your blood sugar levels. Tell your doctor if you:

  • feel thirsty all the time
  • pass urine more often than usual.

These may be a sign your blood sugar is high.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor if you develop:

  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • a fever (high temperature)
  • breathlessness.

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.

If your symptoms come on suddenly, contact the hospital immediately. You may have inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis). Your doctor can tell you more about this.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Do not worry if you do not eat much for a day or two. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They will give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements.

Tummy pain and heartburn

This treatment can cause pain in the tummy (abdomen) and heartburn (indigestion). Tell your nurse or doctor if you have pain. Ask them for advice about how and when to take any drugs for heartburn.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
  • Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
  • Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.

If you have constipation, contact the hospital for advice. Your doctor can give you drugs called laxatives to help.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it has finished. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. If you feel sleepy, do not drive or operate machinery.

Skin changes

This treatment may affect your skin. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. It can cause a rash, which may be itchy.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Any changes to your skin are usually temporary and improve when treatment finishes.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. These cells carry oxygen around the body. 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. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Effects on the liver

This treatment can affect how your liver works. You will have blood tests to check how well your liver is working. Tell your doctor if you have:

  • yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
  • pain on the right side of your tummy
  • dark or brown urine
  • bleeding or bruises that you cannot explain.

These may be a sign of liver problems.

Effects on the kidneys

This treatment can affect how your kidneys work. You will have blood tests to check how well your kidneys are working. Tell your doctor if you stop passing urine (peeing) or are passing very little urine. This may be a sign of kidney problems.

Eyesight changes

This treatment may affect your eyesight. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes. Do not drive or operate machinery if you notice eyesight changes.

Other information

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:

  • medicines you have been prescribed
  • medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
  • vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.

You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.

Vaccinations

Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about vaccinations. These help reduce your risk of getting infections.

Doctors usually recommend that you have a flu jab, which is an inactivated vaccination. People with weak immune systems can have this type of vaccination.

If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations such as shingles. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live vaccinations.

Sex

If you have sex during this course of chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluids.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Breastfeeding

Women are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.

If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.