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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Imatinib (Gleevec®)


Brand Name: Gleevec®

Imatinib is used in the treatment of certain types of leukemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). This medication is also used to treat dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a type of skin tumor.

Imatinib is a biologic drug, also known as targeted therapy. More specifically, this drug is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Imatinib blocks the activity of an enzyme known as tyrosine kinase, which delivers a signal that causes cells to multiply. In some types of cancer, the tyrosine kinase is abnormal, causing the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. By blocking this enzyme, imatinib can help stop the spread of cancer cells.

A tablet, imatinib is taken by mouth, and is usually taken with a meal and water once or twice daily. Imatinib should be taken at the same time(s) each day. Some patients may be unable to swallow imatinib tablets. In this case, the tablets can be stirred into water or apple juice; your doctor can explain the proper preparation. The exact dose may be adjusted during your treatment. Be sure to speak with your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing and how you are feeling. Do not stop taking imatinib without consulting with your doctor, even if you feel well. The duration of treatment will be determined with your doctor. Some patients take imatinib daily for several years or longer.

An important note: If you have been prescribed 800 mg of imatinib, you should take two 400-mg tablets. Do not take eight 100-mg tablets, due to a risk of ingesting too much iron from the tablet coatings.

Imatinib side effects

To prevent problematic interactions between imatinib and other drugs, be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medications, and what other medications and supplements you are currently taking. You should also inform your doctor if you have or ever had a liver tumor, liver disease, or kidney disease, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding. Imatinib should not be taken during breastfeeding.

Your doctor may recommend avoiding grapefruit and grapefruit juice while taking imatinib.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Night sweats
  • Teary eyes

Some of imatinib’s side effects can be serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Puffiness under the eyes
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles or lower legs
  • Weight gain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast, irregular or pounding heartbeat
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fainting
  • Coughing up pink or bloody mucus
  • Increased urination, especially at night
  • Chest pain
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Sore throat, fever, chills or other signs of infection
  • Excessive tiredness or weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Rash or blisters
  • Blood in stool
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. Patients may experience additional effects not mentioned above.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), your team of cancer experts will explain each of the side effects of imatinib with you in detail, as well as the side effects and expectations of all other medications planned as part of your individualized treatment plan.

Imatinib for cancer treatment

Imatinib is approved by the FDA for the treatment of:

  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) that is Philadelphia chromosome (Ph)-positive and in chronic phase
  • CML that is Ph-positive and in blast crisis, accelerated phase, or in chronic phase, and that has worsened after treatment with interferon-alpha
  • Pediatric CML that is Ph-positive and has recurred after stem cell transplant or is resistant to interferon-alpha
  • Kit-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) that are inoperable and/or have spread to other areas of the body
  • GIST following complete surgical removal of the tumor
  • Relapsed or refractory Ph-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Myelodysplastic or myeloproliferative disease that is associated with rearrangements of the PDGFR (platelet-derived growth factor receptor) gene
  • Hypereosinophilic syndrome or chronic eosinophilic leukemia with certain genetic abnormalities
  • Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a tumor that forms under the top layer of skin, that is inoperable, has recurred after prior treatment or has spread to other parts of the body

At CTCA, our integrative approach to cancer treatment works to fight your disease on all fronts and ensures that you remain at the center of everything we do. We encourage participation from both you and your family to make certain you are comfortable with all decisions made regarding your treatment.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.