Alemtuzumab

Brand Names

Campath 1-H (There may be other brand names for this medication)

How is it Administered?

Your medicine will be given slowly by injection into a vein (IV).

What is it Used For?

This drug is used to treat leukemia.

How Does it Work?

Alemtuzumab is not a traditional chemotherapy medication; it is in a class of medications called monoclonal antibodies, a type of targeted therapy.

Traditional chemotherapy drugs identify cancer cells by their rapid rate of reproduction, and then attack those cells. Unfortunately, there are many cells in our bodies that normally reproduce rapidly and these cells are also affected by traditional chemotherapy drugs, resulting in many unpleasant side effects.

Alemtuzumab is designed to work differently. It targets CD52, an antigen found on B cells and T cells (white blood cells that help fight infections and other “foreign invaders”).

Once the alemtuzumab attaches to the CD 52, your body’s immune system attacks and destroys those cells. Unfortunately, in the process of killing the cancerous cells, some healthy B & T cells are also destroyed and your immune system is weakened, potentially seriously. Special precautions will need to be taken to prevent infection during this period of time.

What Should I Tell My Doctor Before I Begin Receiving Alemtuzumab?

Tell your doctor if you:

  • have had an allergic reaction to alemtuzumab
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • are taking blood pressure medicine
  • have heart disease

This drug may interact with other medications, increasing or decreasing their effectiveness or causing harmful side effects. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about any prescription or over-the- counter medications, vitamins, herbal or diet supplements that you are taking.

What Are Some Possible Side Effects I May Experience?

  • Nausea, vomiting, or decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking (tremors)
  • Sudden dizziness when you stand up from a sitting or lying position (called orthostatic hypotension)
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling, pain, or burning in your feet or hands
  • Difficulty walking or changes in the way you walk
  • Clumsiness in buttoning clothes, opening jars, or other routine activities

How Can I Manage These Side Effects?

  • Be sure to take antibiotic and antiviral medicines as prescribed. If you have trouble taking all of your doses because of nausea, vomiting, or another problem, call your doctor immediately.
  • Ask your doctor about medication to help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.
  • If you feel dizzy when you first stand up, sit upright for a few minutes before standing up.
  • If you develop a rash, do not put any thing on it unless it is approved by your doctor.
  • Be careful when cooking, walking, and handling sharp objects and hot liquids.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • any sign of infection: fever of 100.5F (38C) or higher, chills, cough, sore throat, pain or burning upon urination; redness or tenderness along a vein, at an IV site, or at any other wound or skin irritation
  • any sign of an allergic reaction: itching or hives, swelling in your face or hands, swelling or tingling in your mouth or throat, chest tightness, trouble breathing, dizziness, or palpitations
  • unusual bruising or bleeding: bleeding lasts more than 10-15 minutes or that causes dizziness; black or bloody stools; vomit that is bloody or that looks like coffee grounds; blood in your urine or phlegm /mucus, unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, spontaneous bleeding from your gums or nose, or superficial bleeding into the skin that appears as a rash of pinpoint-sized reddish-purple spots (petechiae)
  • severe headache

Call your doctor as soon as possible if you experience:

  • diarrhea of 5-6 stools in 1 day or diarrhea with weakness
  • nausea or vomiting not relieved by prescribed medication or that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • tingling, pain, or burning in your feet or hands
  • clumsiness while buttoning clothes, opening jars, etc
  • extreme tiredness or muscle weakness that interferes with normal activities
  • rapid weight loss (5 or more pounds in 1 week)

What Else Should I Know About Alemtuzumab?

  • This drug may have harmful effects on an unborn child. Use two effective methods of birth control during your treatment and for 6 months after your treatment ends (both men and women). If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before you start your treatments. Genetic counseling is available for you to discuss the effect of this drug therapy on any future pregnancies.
  • Do not breastfeed during treatment or for at least 3 months after treatment ends.
  • May cause bone marrow depression (decreased red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) increasing your risk of anemia, infections and bleeding problems. Stay away from crowds or people with colds, flu, or other infections, wash your hands often, and talk to your doctor before you have any vaccinations (immunizations), such as a flu shot. Be careful when handling sharp objects, stay away from rough sports or other situations where you could be bruised, cut, or injured, and use an electric razor.
  • Your doctor will need to test your blood on a regular schedule while you are getting this medicine. Keep all of your appointments.
  • If you would like more information about alemtuzumab, talk to your doctor.
  • During a treatment, let your nurse know immediately if you have any of these symptoms:
    • shortness of breath
    • rash or itching
    • dizziness or lightheadedness
    • palpitations (feeling your heart beat rapidly)