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Gleevec: Treatment for Cancer

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Gleevec is a tablet treatment for people with stomach cancer, cancer of the small intestines and leukemia that is also being used in a trial of personalized medicine for patients with colorectal cancer.

If you have any of these types of cancer and you have been offered Gleevec, here is a summary of the drug to help you decide if it’s right for you.

Who Gleevec Tablets are meant for:
1. Patients with Philadelphia chromosome–positive chronic myeloid leukemia
2. Adult patients with relapsed or refractory Ph+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia

3. Adult patients with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative diseases
4. Adult patients with aggressive systemic mastocytosis
5. Adult patients with hypereosinophilic syndrome (HES) and/or chronic eosinophilic leukemia
6. Adult patients with unresectable, recurrent, and/or metastatic dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
7. Patients with positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors that cannot be surgically removed or have spread to other parts of the body.
8. Patients who had their gastrointestinal stromal tumors removed and are post-operative.

Side-Effects of Gleevec

Common side-effects that you could get as a result of this drug are:
Minor fluid retention, abdominal pain, muscle cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, rash, hemorrhage.

Less common side-effects include:
Low levels of certain blood cells, liver disorders, low levels of the thyroid hormone, skin blistering, stomach or intestinal irritation, stomach or intestinal perforation (hole) which could be life threatening, severe fluid retention including swelling of the lower legs, eyes, lungs and heart. In rare cases, this can kill you. This product can also cause heart failure. Using this medicine can cause liver, kidney and heart toxicities and immune system suppression if you use it for a long period of time.
After the safety studies were completed, there were also reports of compression of the heart due to fluid retention and sudden lung failure. These events, including some fatalities, may or may not have been drug related.

What Should I do if I get a Side-Effect from my Medication?

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Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Joanna - Thank you for providing this information about Gleevec. As a CML survivor who takes Gleevec on a daily basis I'm grateful to the team of scientists who developed it and glad that it is proving viable for other cancers.

While it does come in tablet form, it should be understood that this is an extremely powerful targeted drug therapy for cancer patients, and is essentially chemotherapy in tablet form. Gleevec was both approved by the FDA in 2001 and on the cover of TIME magazine due to the "miracle" and the life-saving properties it brings to blood cancer patients.

I would strongly advise any person who is taking Gleevec to 1) be sure that their physician is a specialist in their specific condition who is thoroughly familiar with this drug and the follow up tests needed to accurately measure results and 2) join a patient support group so that you can obtain in-depth information on how to manage the side effects from this drug. Compliance is critical, and there are many ways to mitigate the side effects, which can be debilitating.

I would also be happy to answer questions readers may have, either through this post or via direct private message.

Pat Elliott
EmpowHer Cancer Guide

March 2, 2010 - 6:31pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.