What Is Ibritumomab?

Allison Boelcke

Ibritumomab is a medication that is primarily used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the white blood cells known as lymphocytes. These cells are found in the lymphatic system, a series of tissues and organs that aid the body in fighting off disease. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma causes abnormal cells to grow in the lymphocytes and form tumors, which may prevent the lymphatic system from being able to function properly. The effectiveness of the medication in treating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may depend on how advanced the cancer is and how far it has spread throughout the body.

Ibritumomab may cause fatigue in some individuals.
Ibritumomab may cause fatigue in some individuals.

It is generally thought that ibritumomab may be effective at treating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by attaching itself to the cancerous cells in the lymphocytes. The medication mimics a protein found in the immune system that is able to attach itself to particular types of cells. Once the drug is attached to the cancerous white blood cells, it then destroys them with the use of a radioactive substance. Many doctors typically recommend taking the medication in conjunction with rituximab, another medication that attaches to and destroys certain cancer cells.

Some who take ibritumomab to treat lymphoma may experience shortness of breath.
Some who take ibritumomab to treat lymphoma may experience shortness of breath.

Ibritumomab is available as a solution administered intravenously. Since the medication can potentially damage healthy cells and organs, it is typically only administered by a medical professional as either an inpatient or outpatient procedure so that the patient can be monitored throughout the administration. The dosage amount and number of treatments may vary widely depending on the severity of the disease and how a person’s body responds to the medication.

Although ibritumomab is meant to destroy abnormal cancer cells, it may potentially affect healthy cells and cause certain side effects. The side effects often go away after regular treatment with the medication and usually do not require medical attention. These side effects often affect bleeding and include blood in the urine or stool, nose bleeds, coughing up blood, heavier menstrual bleeding than normal, and excessive or longer lasting blood from cuts or scrapes. Other common side effects that may also occur, such as fatigue, headache, dizziness, pain in the lower back, and shortness of breath.

Ibritumomab may also contribute to long-term side effects that may not be evident until weeks or years after the treatment. The medication may alter red blood cell levels and potentially cause a person to get anemia, a condition in which a person has lowered red blood cell numbers. Since red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body, lowered amounts of the cells may prevent adequate oxygen transportation and cause symptoms such as dizziness, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. If anemia occurs, it generally develops at least six weeks after the initial treatment. In rare cases, the medication may also make a person more likely to develop a second form of cancer years after the initial treatment.

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