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Cetuximab 340

This leaflet provides information on a treatment known as cetuximab.  It will explain what this is and when and how it will be given.  It will also tell you about common side effects that you may experience.  Contact telephone numbers and details of how to obtain further information on this treatment are given at the end of the leaflet.

What is cetuximab?

Cetuximab is an artificially made antibody which attaches itself to cancer cells and stops them from growing.  It also helps your own immune system kill the cancer cells.  It is not chemotherapy.  

Why am I having this treatment?

Your doctor has prescribed this treatment because it has been found to be effective in treating your type of cancer.

How often will I receive this treatment?  

For the treatment to be most effective it is usually given weekly.  Your doctor will discuss with you how long you will have your treatment for.

This treatment may be given with radiotherapy.  Your doctor will tell you if you are having combined treatment.  We will give you a separate information leaflet which tells you more about radiotherapy.

How will my treatment be given?

Your treatment is given through a drip into a vein in the back of your hand or arm.  Alternatively it may be suggested that a fine tube called a PICC is inserted into a large vein in your upper arm.  This line can remain in place for the whole of your treatment.  Your doctor or nurse will explain this in more detail.  

We have a leaflet that tells you more about PICC lines.  Please ask if you would like a copy. 

How long will I be in hospital?

You should be prepared to spend 4 – 5 hours at the hospital for your first treatment.  Cetuximab is given slowly and we will observe you after the infusion to check you are ok.  For the rest of your treatments this appointment will be shorter.  You will spend about 2 - 3 hours in one of the day case treatment areas.  

Can I bring relatives and friends with me? 

You are welcome to bring someone to stay with you during your treatment. Space is limited so there is not usually room for more than one person.  Treatment areas are not suitable for young children.

How often will I see the specialist team?

You will usually see the specialist team every 3 - 4 weeks.  Your team will let you know how often they will see you.  You will have regular blood tests and we will check how you are feeling and discuss any problems you may have.  This is so we can check how the treatment is affecting you.  

What are the possible side effects?

This type of treatment is usually very well tolerated and most patients don’t have many side effects.  The doctor, nurses and pharmacists can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.

Hair loss

This treatment should not cause hair loss.

Tiredness and fatigue

This treatment may make you feel more tired than usual.  It is important to listen to your body and rest if you need to, but carry out your normal activities if you feel able.  Some people find it beneficial to take gentle exercise as well as rest.

Skin reactions

Most people (more than 80%) experience a skin reaction with cetuximab.  This is usually an acne type rash which may be dry and itchy and cause mild discomfort.  For a small number of people this reaction may be more severe.  A severe rash would affect a large part of your body, may be painful and may become infected. 

To reduce the possibility of severe skin reaction we suggest that you:

  • use non-perfumed moisturising creams on your face and upper body from the start of your treatment.  Apply the cream on your body along the same direction as the hair growth.
  • Do not wet shave, use an electric razor. 
  • avoid exposure to the sun, wear a hat and use a high factor sunscreen.
  • don’t use hot water on your skin.
  • don’t use soap if your skin is dry - use a soap alternative such as aqueous cream, or a bath emollient such as oilatum.
  • Use a gentle shampoo, such as simple shampoo.  Do not use baby shampoo.
  • try not to rub your skin vigorously - pat gently dry 
  • try to wear gloves when washing dishes.
  • wear comfortable clothes and shoes that do not rub

Your hospital doctor may prescribe antibiotic tablets to help reduce the severity of your skin rash and may give you steroid cream and antibiotic cream to apply to the area if you develop the following:-

  1. Pustules/or vesicles (white or yellow spots), apply the steroid cream.  
  2. Spots become red and angry, apply the antibiotic cream.  

 If the spots start to become hot or inflamed contact Velindre Cancer Centre.

This skin reaction is temporary and will resolve completely after you have finished treatment.  If you develop a severe skin reaction which is causing you pain or stopping you carrying out your normal activities, please contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Effects on your bowels

This treatment has been known to cause either constipation or diarrhoea.  

  • If you experience constipation it is important that you increase the amount of fluids you drink.  You may need laxatives.  You can speak to us or your GP for advice. 
  • If you experience diarrhoea it is important that you drink plenty of fluids.  Medication is available to control diarrhoea.  If you have 4 or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Allergic type reactions

A small number of patients have an allergic type reaction to cetuximab.  This is most likely to occur during your first treatment.  That is why it is given slowly and we observe you for any reactions.  If this occurs it will be whilst cetuximab is infusing or immediately afterwards.  Symptoms include feeling:

  • hot and flushed 
  • itchy 
  • light headed
  • generally unwell  
  • short of breath  

This can be easily treated.  Please tell your nurse if you experience any of these symptoms.

Blood clots

A diagnosis of cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having cancer treatment may increase this risk further.  It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in your leg, or breathlessness and chest pain.  

Blood clots can be very serious.  However, most clots can usually be successfully treated with drugs to thin the blood.  Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Other side effects

Some patients may develop conjunctivitis.  This is an infection of the eyes which causes sore and sticky eyes.  If this happens you will need treatment which can be provided by us or your GP.

Some patients may experience problems with pain, swelling or infection in the nailbed.  If this occurs it is usually after several months of treatment.  Please tell your doctor at your next clinic visit if this occurs.

You may get headaches whilst on this treatment.  Try taking whatever painkillers you would normally take.  If these do not work please contact Velindre Cancer Centre or your GP for advice.

It is important you do not become pregnant or father a child whilst having this treatment as it could damage the unborn baby.  

Rarely people on this treatment may experience shortness of breath.  This is more likely if you have an existing lung problem.  If you wish to discuss this further please speak to your doctor.

A small number of patients may feel sick or vomit.  If this occurs please contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.

Sometimes cancer drugs can have very serious side effects which rarely can be life threatening. It is important to inform Velindre cancer centre if you are concerned about any side-effects.

A diagnosis of cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having cancer treatment may increase this risk further.  It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in your leg, or breathlessness and chest pain.  

Blood clots can be very serious.  However, most clots can usually be successfully treated with drugs to thin the blood.  Your doctor or nurse can give you more information

Manufacturer’s patient information leaflets

Velindre leaflets provide information about very common and commonly reported side-effects (we are unable to list all of the common side effects), for more information regarding these and the less common side-effects please refer to the manufacturers patient information leaflets, obtained from Velindre pharmacy and/or on the internet at Sometimes patients may find these leaflets difficult to read however. Please ask if you would like a copy from your doctor or from Velindre pharmacy

Contact telephone numbers

Velindre Cancer Centre 029 2061 5888

Ask for the treatment helpline if you are unwell at home and need immediate advice at any time of the day or night. For example you should phone if you:

  • Have diarrhoea
  • Painful skin reaction

Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223

Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines

Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010

cancer helpline 


This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.

Prepared April 2011

Reviewed December 2016