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What is Rituximab?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Rituximab is a medication which is designed to target rogue B-cells, a component of the immune system, in the body. It is used in the treatment of some types of leukemia and lymphoma, along with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. This drug is sold under the trade names MabThera and Rituxan, and it is available by prescription only.

This drug is a type of monoclonal antibody, designed to target specific proteins on B-cells. It is delivered in the form of a solution which is infused into the body over a series of regular appointments. Rituximab will attack both healthy and abnormal B-cells, which means that it needs to be administered with care so that the patient's immune system is not compromised by the use of the drug. Typically, the patient is monitored throughout the infusion, and he or she may be asked to stay once the infusion is over so that health care providers can monitor for signs of an adverse reactions.

Common side effects of rituximab include nausea, pain at the infusion site, runny nose, itching, headache, fatigue, and hives. Some patients experience more severe adverse reactions to the drug, with most negative reactions occurring during the first infusion, rather than being acquired later. Some more serious side effects include infections, heart problems, and tumor lysis syndrome. In tumor lysis syndrome, tumorous cells are killed by the drug, but they cannot be flushed from the body quickly enough.

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Before prescribing rituximab to a patient, a doctor will usually review the patient's condition carefully, and perform medical tests to ensure that the patient is a good candidate for the drug. The doctor should discuss the potential risks of the drug with the patient, along with common side effects and ways to deal with them, and the patient may be given special advisements which pertain to him or her. The patient will also need to establish a relationship with a clinic or hospital where infusions are performed.

Like many medications on the market, rituximab has not been tested for safety in pregnant women, because doing so could potentially put the life of the fetus at risk. For this reason, the drug is not recommended for use by women in pregnancy or breastfeeding women, as the risk to developing babies and infants is not known. Taking a better safe than sorry approach, doctors will prescribe an alternative or wait to start treatment until it is safe.

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