Imatinib (also called Glivec)


What is it?

Imatinib, also called Glivec, is a new type of drug. It is more of a targeted anti-cancer treatment then older chemotherapy drugs.


What is it used for?

The main use of Imatinib is to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, but it is also used to treat some types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.


How does it work?

Imatinib targets an enzymeAn enzyme is a type of protein that helps chemical reactions occur in cells within cells called tyrosine kinase. This enzyme is over active in chronic myeloid leukaemia and results in increased cell division and growth. By blocking this enzyme Imatinib therefore stops cancer cell growth and kills cancerous cells.


How is it given?

Imatinib is taken by mouth as a tablet, it is not given alongside other chemotherapy medications.


What are the most important side effects?

As Imatinib is a targeted treatment so patients tend to suffer with fewer side effects when compared to those taking other chemotherapy medications.

It is possible for Imatinib to affect bone marrow like other chemotherapy agents so there is a risk of developing neutropenic sepsis. This will be explained to you before you start treatment. If bone marrow is affected blood cells are not produced in the normal way. This temporarily leaves the body vulnerable to infection as the immune system will not be able to fight against infection in the normal way. Therefore please read the neutropenic sepsis page for full information about what to do if you feel unwell.

Other side effects patients notice are fluid retention so ankles may become swollen, this is easily treatable. Nausea and diarrhoea are other possible side effects which can also be easily managed.


Further information

Imatinib at Macmillian cancer support



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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