What is it?

Rituximab is a new successful drug which works in a more targeted way then the traditional chemotherapy drugs.


What is it used for?

Rituximab is used to treat several diseases. It is used to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma and chronic lymphoid leukaemia when treating haematological diseases.


How does it work?

Rituximab selectively recognises B-cells within the body. B-cells produce cells which normally help the body to fight infection. In non-Hodgkins lymphoma and chronic lymphoid leukaemia, B-cells are the cells that have turned cancerous. Rituximab therefore targets these cancerous B-cells and destroys them. However it also destroys some healthy B-cells which the body replaces after treatment.


How is it given?

Rituximab is not available in tablet form, it has to be injected into a vein. This is either by a small tube going into a vein called a cannulae, which is removed after the injection is finished. The other option is to have the drug given by a long line, which is a longer tube inserted into a vein and is kept in place for a few weeks. The drug is given on the Haematology Day Unit and is often given in combination with chemotherapy drugs.


What are the most important side effects?

Some patients react to Rituximab when it is first injected, if this occurs it does so during the first infusion. The first infusion is therefore given slowly, which takes up most of the day. The nurses on the Haematology Day Unit will talk you through this. After the first dose infusions can be given quicker.

Rituximab can also lower the number of white cells in the body. These cells help fight infection so the body may be left vulnerable to infection as the immune system will not be able to fight against infection in the normal way. This may result in neutropenic sepsis, this will be explained to you before you start treatment. Please read the neutropenic sepsis page for full information about what to do if you feel unwell.


Further information

Rituximab at Macmillian cancer support



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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