Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
Generic name: Sunitinib
Trade name: Sutent ®
Other name: SU11248
Sutent is the trade name for sunitinib. In some cases, health care professionals
may use the trade name Sutent when referring to the generic drug name sunitinib.
Drug type: Sunitinib is a targeted therapy and is a receptor protein-tyrosine
kinase inhibitor. It inhibits the actions of vascular endothelial growth factor
(VEGF) and is an angiogenesis inhibitor. (For more detail, see "How this drug
What This Drug Is Used For:
- Treatment of gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)
- Treatment of advanced renal cell cancer
Note: If a drug has been approved for one use, physicians may elect
to use this same drug for other problems if they believe it may be helpful.
How This Drug Is Given:
- As a capsule taken by mouth.
- May be taken with or without food. Avoid grapefruit juice.
- The amount of sunitinib that you will receive depends on several factors, including
your general health or other health problems, and the type of cancer or condition
you have. Your doctor will determine your exact dosage and schedule.
Important things to remember about the side effects of sunitinib:
- You will not get all of the side effects mentioned below.
- Side effects are often predictable in terms of their onset, duration, and severity.
- Side effects are almost always reversible and will go away after therapy is complete.
- Side effects are quite manageable. There are many options to minimize or prevent
The following side effects are common (occurring in greater than 30%) for patients
The following side effects are less common (occurring in 29-10%) for patients
Rare (2-3%) but serious side effects may include problems with
blood clots. Blood clots can lead to pulmonary embolus or stroke –
potentially life-threatening conditions.
This list includes common and
less common side effects for those taking sunitinib. Side effects that are
very rare -- occurring in less than about 10 percent of patients -- are not listed
here. But you should always inform your health care provider if you experience any
When to contact your doctor or health care provider:
Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you should
experience any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher, chills (possible signs of infection)
The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not an emergency. Contact
your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the following:
- Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and unrelieved with prescribed medication).
- Vomiting (vomiting more than 4-5 times in a 24 hour period).
- Diarrhea (4-6 episodes in a 24-hour period).
- Unable to eat or drink for 24 hours or have signs of dehydration: tiredness, thirst,
dry mouth, dark and decreased amount of urine, or dizziness.
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Black or tarry stools, or blood in your stools.
- Blood in the urine.
- Pain or burning with urination.
- Extreme fatigue (unable to carry on self-care activities).
- Mouth sores (painful redness, swelling or ulcers).
- Swelling, redness and/or pain in one leg or arm and not the other (may be signs
and symptoms of blood clot)
Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.
- Before starting sunitinib treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about
any other medications you are taking (including prescription, over-the-counter,
vitamins, herbal remedies, etc.). Do not take aspirin,
products containing aspirin unless your doctor specifically permits this.
- Avoid the herbal preparation St. John's wort (may increase metabolism and decrease
- Do not receive any kind of immunization or vaccination without your doctor’s approval
while taking sunitinib.
- Inform your health care professional if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior
to starting this treatment. Pregnancy category D (may be hazardous to the fetus.
Women who are pregnant or become pregnant must be advised of the potential hazard
to the fetus.)
- For both men and women: Use contraceptives, and do not conceive a child (get pregnant)
while taking sunitinib. Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, are recommended.
- Do not breast feed while taking this medication.
- Drink at least two to three quarts of fluid every 24 hours, unless you are instructed
- You may be at risk of infection so try to avoid crowds or people with colds, and
report fever or any other signs of infection immediately to your health care provider.
- Wash your hands often.
- To help treat/prevent mouth sores, use a soft toothbrush, and rinse three times
a day with 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 8 ounces of water.
- Use an electric razor and a soft toothbrush to minimize bleeding.
- Avoid contact sports or activities that could cause injury.
- To reduce nausea, take anti-nausea medications as prescribed by your doctor, and
eat small, frequent meals.
- Prevention of hand-foot syndrome. Modification of normal activities of daily living
to reduce friction and heat exposure to hands and feet, for about a week after treatment.
(for more information see - Managing side effects: hand foot syndrome)
- Keep palms of hands and soles of feet moist using emollients.
- Avoid sun exposure. Wear SPF 15 (or higher) sunblock and protective clothing.
- In general, drinking alcoholic beverages should be kept to a minimum or avoided
completely. You should discuss this with your doctor.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Maintain good nutrition.
- If you experience symptoms or side effects, be sure to discuss them with your health
care team. They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are
effective in managing such problems.
Monitoring and Testing:
You will be checked regularly by your doctor while you are taking sunitinib, to
monitor side effects and check your response to therapy. Periodic blood work will
be obtained to monitor your complete blood count (CBC) the function of other organs
(such as your kidneys and liver) as well as your thyroid function. These
will also be ordered by your doctor.
How This Drug Works:
Targeted therapy is the result of about 100 years of research dedicated to understanding
the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. To date, cancer treatment
has focused primarily on killing rapidly dividing cells because one feature of cancer
cells is that divide rapidly. Unfortunately, some of our normal cells divide
rapidly too, causing multiple side effects.
Targeted therapy is about identifying other features of cancer cells. Scientists
look for specific differences in the cancer cells and the normal cells. This
information is used to create a targeted therapy to attack the cancer cells without
damaging the normal cells, thus leading to fewer side effects. Each type of
targeted therapy works a little bit differently but all interfere with the ability
of the cancer cell to grow, divide, repair and/or communicate with other cells.
There are different types of targeted therapies, defined in three broad categories.
Some targeted therapies focus on the internal components and function of the cancer
cell. These use small molecules that can get into the cell and disrupt the
function of the cells, causing them to die. There are several types of targeted
therapy that focus on the inner parts of the cells. The second variety
target receptors that are on the outside or surface of the cell. This
form of targeted treatment includes the monoclonal antibodies. Finally, antiangiogenesis
inhibitors target the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the cancer cells, ultimately
causing the cells to starve and die.
Researchers agree that targeted therapies are not a replacement for traditional
therapies, but may best be used in combination. More research is needed to
identify which cancers may be best treated in this way and to identify additional
targets for more types of cancer.
Sunitinib is designed to block tumor cell growth in several ways. Sunitinib
targets several enzymes on blood vessel cells and tumor cells. Several of
these targets are thought to be involved in angiogenesis (making of blood vessels).
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional
about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained
in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.
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