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Cetuximab (Erbitux®)

Other Names: Erbitux®

About This Drug

Cetuximab is used to treat cancer. It is given in the vein (IV).

Possible Side Effects 

  • Infection
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea (loose bowel movements)
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Nail loss and/or brittle nail

Note: Each of the side effects above was reported in 25% or greater of patients treated with cetuximab. Not all possible side effects are included above.

Warnings and Precautions

  • While you are getting this drug in your vein (IV), you may have a reaction to the drug, which can be life-threatening. This risk is increased if you have a history of tick bites, a red meat allergy, or IgE antibodies against galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Sometimes you may be given medication to stop or lessen these side effects. Your nurse will check you closely for these signs: fever or shaking chills, flushing, facial swelling, feeling dizzy, headache, trouble breathing, rash, itching, chest tightness, or chest pain. These reactions may happen after your infusion. If this happens, call 911 for emergency care.
  • Heart attack and risk of sudden death
  • Inflammation (swelling) of the lungs, which can be life-threatening. You may have a dry cough or trouble breathing.
  • Severe skin reaction, which can be life-threatening. You may develop blisters on your skin that are filled with fluid or a severe red rash all over your body that may be painful.
  • Electrolyte changes, especially low magnesium

Note: Some of the side effects above are very rare. If you have concerns and/or questions, please discuss them with your medical team.

Important Information 

  • This drug may be present in the saliva, tears, sweat, urine, stool, vomit, semen, and vaginal secretions. Talk to your doctor and/or your nurse about the necessary precautions to take during this time.

Treating Side Effects 

  • Drink plenty of fluids (a minimum of eight glasses per day is recommended).
  • If you throw up or have loose bowel movements, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack of water in the body from losing too much fluid).
  • If you have diarrhea, eat low-fiber foods that are high in protein and calories and avoid foods that can irritate your digestive tracts or lead to cramping.
  • Ask your nurse or doctor about medicine that can lessen or stop your diarrhea.
  • Moisturize your skin several times a day
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher when you are outdoors even for a short time. Cover up when you are out in the sun. Wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Keep your neck, chest, and back covered. Follow these guidelines for at least 2 months after treatment.
  • Keeping your nails moisturized may help with brittleness
  • If you get a rash do not put anything on it unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medicine if your rash bothers you.
  • Infusion reactions may occur after your infusion. If this happens, call 911 for emergency care.

Food and Drug Interactions 

  • There are no known interactions of cetuximab with food.
  • This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and others) that you are taking at this time. Also, check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or dietary supplements to make sure that there are no interactions.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have any of these symptoms and/or any new or unusual symptoms: 

  • Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Pain in your chest
  • Dry cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blurred or decreased vision
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain may go away and come back or it can be constant. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes pain is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue (low energy, feeling weak)
  • Diarrhea, 4 times in one day or diarrhea with lack of strength or a feeling of being dizzy
  • A new rash or a rash that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Signs of inflammation/infection (redness, swelling, pain) of the tissue around your nails.
  • Signs of infusion reaction: fever or shaking chills, flushing, facial swelling, feeling dizzy, headache, trouble breathing, rash, itching, chest tightness, or chest pain. If this happens, call 911 for emergency care.
  • If you think you may be pregnant

Reproduction Warnings 

  • Pregnancy warning: This drug can have harmful effects on the unborn baby. Women of childbearing potential should use effective methods of birth control during your cancer treatment and for 2 months after treatment. Let your doctor know right away if you think you may be pregnant.
  • Breastfeeding warning: Women should not breastfeed during treatment and for 2 months after treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and cause harm to a breastfeeding baby.
  • Fertility warning: In women, this drug may affect your ability to have children in the future. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children. Ask for information on egg banking.

Revised August 2019

This patient information was developed by Via Oncology, LLC © 2019. This information is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have.

CLIENT acknowledges that the Via Pathways and Via Portal are information management tools only, and that Via Oncology, LLC has not represented the Via Pathways or Via Portal as having the ability to diagnose disease, prescribe treatment, or perform any other tasks that constitute the practice of medicine. The clinical information contained in the Via Pathways and Via Portal are intended as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the knowledge, expertise, skill, and judgment of physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals involved with patient care at CLIENT facilities.