Axitinib (Inlyta®)

Axitinib (Inlyta®) is a targeted therapy drug used to treat kidney cancer. It is best to read this information with our general information about targeted therapies and the type of cancer you have.

Axitinib is taken as tablets. You will have it as an outpatient. Your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you how often you will have it.

Like all cancer drugs, axitinib can cause side effects. Some of the side effects can be serious, so it is important to read the detailed information below.

Your healthcare team can give you advice on how to manage any side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you feel unwell or have severe side effects, including any we do not mention here.

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

If you need medical attention for any reason other than cancer, always tell the healthcare staff that you are having this treatment.

What is axitinib (Inlyta®)?

Axitinib is a targeted therapy drug that is also known as Inlyta®. It is used to treat kidney cancer that has spread outside the kidney (advanced kidney cancer). It can also be given before surgery to remove the kidney in a clinical trial to see if it helps to reduce the cancer. It is best to read this information with our general information about kidney cancer.

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

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.

How targeted therapies work

This animation shows how targeted therapies work and what effect they have on the body.

About our cancer information videos

How targeted therapies work

This animation shows how targeted therapies work and what effect they have on the body.

About our cancer information videos


How axitinib works

Axitinib is a type of drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), also known as a cancer growth inhibitor. Kinases are proteins in the body that control how the cells grow and divide.

Axitinib blocks the proteins (kinases) from sending signals to the cancer cells to grow. Blocking the signals causes the cells to die. It also stops the cancer cells from developing new blood vessels. This reduces their supply of oxygen and nutrients and slows down or stops the growth of the cancer.


When axitinib is given

Axitinib is usually given after treatment with another cancer growth inhibitor drug, such as sunitinib or pazopanib. Some people have axitinib after treatment with interferon or interleukin.

Your cancer doctor can tell you if this treatment is appropriate for you. Some people may be given axitinib as part of a clinical trial.


Taking axitinib

You take axitinib as a tablet twice a day, about 12 hours apart. Take the tablets with a glass of water. You can take axitinib with or without food. Don’t take axitinib with grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice, as it may increase the risk of side effects.

The dose of axitinib may go up or down during treatment. Your doctor may change the dose you take depending on your blood pressure or other side effects you have. They do this to make sure the amount of axitinib you are taking is right for you.

Always take your tablets exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explained. This is important to make sure they work as well as possible for you. Do not stop taking any of your tablets unless your doctor tells you to. Other things to remember about your tablets:

  • If you forget to take your tablet or are sick after taking it, just take your next dose at the usual time. Never take a double dose.
  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Keep them safe and out of the reach of children.
  • Get a new prescription before you run out of tablets and make sure you have plenty for holidays.
  • If your treatment is stopped return any unused capsules or tablets to the pharmacist.

You usually take axitinib for as long as it is controlling the cancer.


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.

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.

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

If you have diarrhoea, contact the hospital for advice. Try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids every day. It can help to avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.

Feeling sick

Your doctor can give you anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. If you still feel sick, tell your doctor. They can prescribe other anti-sickness drugs that may work better for you.

Increased blood pressure

This treatment can cause high blood pressure. You will have your blood pressure checked regularly. If you have headaches, nosebleeds or feel dizzy, let your doctor know. They can prescribe tablets to control high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure before you start treatment, your doctor will monitor you closely during treatment.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect. 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.

Underactive thyroid

Axitinib can make your thyroid work less than normal (underactive). Signs that you might have an underactive thyroid gland include:

  • tiredness
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • aches
  • dry skin
  • dry hair.

During treatment, your doctor will monitor your thyroid function with blood tests. But if you have any symptoms, let them know.

Sore and red hands and feet

Having sore and red palms of hands and soles of feet is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. It gets 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.

Joint or muscle pains

Some people have pains in their joints or muscles. Your doctor can prescribe painkillers for this.

Skin changes

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

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any skin changes or if they get worse. 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.

Weight loss and loss of appetite

You may lose your appetite and lose weight during your treatment. Try to eat small meals regularly. If your appetite doesn’t improve after a few days, let your doctor or nurse know. They can arrange for you to see a dietitian who can give you advice. You may be given food supplements or meal replacement drinks to try. Your doctor can prescribe some of these and you can buy them from chemists.

Some people also notice that food tastes different. Your nurse or dietitian can give you advice on coping with this.

Tummy (abdominal) pain

Some people have pain or discomfort in their tummy when taking axitinib. Let your doctor know if this happens to you.

Very rarely, axitinib can cause a hole (perforation) in the small bowel. Contact your doctor immediately if you have severe pain in the tummy and sickness and vomiting. It’s also very important to let them know if you have bleeding from the back passage or black stools, if you are vomiting up blood, or if your vomit looks like coffee grounds.

Breathlessness and a cough

You may feel more out of breath than normal or develop a cough. Let your doctor know if you notice this.

Headaches

This treatment may cause headaches. If this happens, tell your doctor or nurse. They can give you painkillers.

Hoarse voice

You may notice your voice sounds hoarse or you may feel like you have a lump in your throat. Tell your doctor if you experience this. It will usually go back to normal when treatment stops.

Slow healing of wounds

Wounds often take longer to heal while you're having treatment with axitinib. If you need surgery, you may need to stop taking axitinib before the operation and not start taking it again for a few weeks afterwards. You may also need to stop taking axitinib for a few days if you are having dental treatment. Talk to your doctor if you need to have surgery or dental treatment.

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.

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos


Less common side effects

Blood clots

This treatment can increase the chances of a blood clot. A clot can cause:

  • pain, redness and swelling in a leg or arm
  • breathlessness
  • chest pain.

Contact your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms. A blood clot is serious, but your doctor can treat it with drugs that thin the blood. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Effects on the heart

Axitinib can affect the way the heart works. Let your doctor know if you feel breathless and tired or have swollen legs or ankles.

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.

Confusion, fits (seizures) or changes in vision

Rarely, axitinib can cause you to become confused, have a seizure or have changes in your vision. Contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

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 blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any bruising or bleeding that you can’t explain. This includes:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.

Overactive thyroid

Axitinib can make your thyroid work more than normal (overactive). Signs that you may have an overactive thyroid gland include:

  • losing weight
  • feeling anxious
  • mood swings
  • tiredness
  • difficulty sleeping.

During treatment, your doctor will monitor your thyroid function with blood tests. But if you have any symptoms, let them know.

Changes in the way your liver or kidneys work

This treatment can affect how your kidneys and liver work. This is usually mild and goes back to normal after treatment. You will have blood tests to check how well your kidneys and liver are working.

Changes in hearing

Axitinib can affect your hearing. You may get ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Tinnitus usually gets better after treatment ends. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing.


Other information about axitinib

Other drugs

Some medicines, including ones you buy in a shop or chemist, can be harmful while you are having this treatment. Tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking, including vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Lactose

This drug contains lactose. If you have a lactose intolerance, talk to your doctor before you start taking this.

Fertility

Doctors don’t yet know how this treatment may affect your fertility (the ability to become pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, talk to you doctor before treatment starts.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or father a child while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. The drugs may harm the developing baby. It is important to use effective contraception.

Breastfeeding

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

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 this treatment.