What is Campath®?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Campath® is a medication used in the treatment of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Also known by the generic name alemtuzumab, the medication is usually not the first treatment option and is instead reserved for those who have not responded to other medications. Campath® acts by targeting the very specific cells that cause this type of cancer.

Medication is administered via an injection in varying levels of dosage throughout the treatment. Starting with a small dose and slowly increasing it will not only help the body adjust to the medication, but will also help minimize side effects. Mild side effects include fever or chills, nausea and vomiting, and can usually be helped with the administration of other medications before the main treatment. Some individuals may also be tired after being given their treatments, and it is usually recommended that they not drive after their appointments. Other mild and more rare side effects include headache, cold symptoms, dizziness, chest pain, fatigue, insomnia and abnormal sweating.

The body's immune system contains antibodies that are produced to destroy invading cells and fight off disease and infection. Campath® is a substance that does not naturally occur in the body, and is instead created in a lab from engineered animal compounds. It is known as a monoclonal antibody, and is designed to target and attack only the cells responsible for the spread of leukemia. The drug detects the presence of the cancer cells, attaches itself to them and destroys them. Campath® is the first of this type of medication that has been found to successfully treat B-cell CLL.

Those undergoing treatment for B-cell CLL with Campath® or other types of medications are typically more vulnerable to infections because the medications suppress the immune system. They are geared to attack cancer cells that are part of the immune system, but in doing so can also damage some of the healthy cells. Most medical professionals will order routine blood work while the treatment is being administered to keep track of the levels of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the immune system.

As Campath® can compromise the immune system, medical professionals may suggest those who are taking it increase iron intake. In some cases, this can help counteract some of the negative effects of the medication. There may be a number of ways to help manage the side effects of the drug, including the administration of pain relievers or other medications that will help the body fight off any beginning illnesses.

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