What is Sunitinib?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 January 2020
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Sunitinib malate, often referred to simply as sunitinib, is a prescription drug used in the management of gastrointestinal tumors and some forms of kidney cancer. It comes in oral capsules containing up to 50 milligrams (mg) of the active ingredient. Sunitinib works by hindering the function of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) in cancerous cells, enzymes that play a significant role in the development and growth of tumors. When the medicine is taken according to doctors' recommendations, it usually inhibits the spread of cancer and occasionally shrinks existing tumors. The drug can cause side effects or react adversely with other medications, and doctors perform extensive medical evaluations before and during the course of treatment to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.

RTKs are essential enzymes for healthy growth and functioning of many proteins found in body cells. They promote active, organized intracellular processes, including those involved with metabolism and replication. RTKs perform the same functions in some cancerous cells, however, aiding in the progression and spread of the cancer. Sunitinib molecules inhibit RTKs in cancerous cells from beginning their replication sequences. As an effect, the cells cannot efficiently multiply and afflict nearby healthy tissue.


Sunitinib has proven effective in treating patients who suffer from renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). Since the medicine is distributed throughout the body, its effects are not necessarily limited to cancerous cells. Side effects appear when healthy blood, skin, organ, and muscle cells are introduced to the drug. The most common symptoms associated with sunitinib use are fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, and dry mouth. Some people experience muscle pain, numbness in the extremities, mild skin rashes, and thinning hair.

The drug can occasionally cause more dangerous side effects, such as shortness of breath, extreme stomach pain, chills, and mental confusion. Doctors do not normally give the medication to children or pregnant women due to the possibility of fatal complications. Sunitinib can also cause serious health complications when it is taken concurrently with certain antibiotics, antivirals, and vitamins. It is important for patients to describe their current medication regimens and previous medical issues for doctors before they take the drug.

Physicians determine dosing amounts and frequencies based on many factors: whether patients have GISTs or RCC, the condition of their immune systems, and their ages. Most patients are instructed to take 50 mg doses once daily for about four weeks, and then schedule follow-up appointments with their doctors to determine if the medicine had any effect. Patients who follow their doctors' recommendations and maintain healthy lifestyle habits during their treatment often reap significant benefits from sunitinib.



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