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What is Zevalin®?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Zevalin® is a drug used in the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Also known as ibritumomab, it is a liquid medication that interacts with the body's white blood cells in order to stop the spread of cancer. It was made to target and destroy a very specific form of cancer cell.

An individual who has already been treated with other therapies can often be a candidate for Zevalin®. Typically, a patient who has been found to be in a holding pattern in the treatment and spread of the cancer has the best chance with this drug. The medication is a complex form of therapy that is designed to target and attach itself specifically to cancer cells. Zevalin® is infused with radiation before it is injected into the body, and once it attaches itself to the cancer cells and tumors, it acts as a delivery system for the radiation. The injection is done slowly, and the liquid is put directly into a vein.

Zevalin® is typically administered along with another drug called rituximab. Rituximab is given first, and allowed several hours to spread throughout the body before Zevalin® is injected. Different types of imagining scans can detect the radioactive chemical and allow medical professionals to see how it is traveling through the body. The treatment typically continues over the next two to three days, and is administered again if the body shows a satisfactory reaction to it.

Some individuals have an adverse reaction when the medication is injected, and others may find the side effects come later, within a day of the treatment. Usual side effects include nausea, arm or joint pain, light-headedness or dizziness, feelings of anxiety or an irregular heartbeat. These symptoms typically pass, but should be reported if they do not go away. Other, more severe side effects include flu-like symptoms, fever, weakness, headache, or developing a susceptibility to bruising. Some may develop a reaction in the area where the medicine was injected, including a burning sensation or irritation; these side effects should also be reported to a medical professional.

Zevalin® is typically administered in a hospital setting, and requires those overseeing the procedure to have special training. As it is a radioactive material, those administering the treatment must be trained in how to properly manage both the medication and the patient. They should also be aware of what pre-existing medical conditions can interfere with the treatment, such as kidney or liver disease or a compromised immune system. Zevalin® can act to suppress the immune system, and those administering the drug will typically advise the patient on how to protect themselves from becoming ill.

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