Cetuximab (Generic Name)

Other Names: Erbitux™

About this drug

Cetuximab is used to treat cancer. It is given intravenously (IV).

Possible side effects

Serious reactions may occur during the time you are receiving this drug by IV. Your vital signs will be monitored during the infusion so that reactions can be treated. They are usually seen during the first treatment, but they can occur any time you receive this drug. Some people have trouble breathing, and their blood pressure may drop. Some patients may be given medicine to help prevent or lessen these symptoms.

Other Side effects may include:

  • Changes in lung tissue (interstitial lung disease). This can result in inflammation, scarring, and hardening of the lungs. This is a rare side effect. Your doctor will monitor your lung function as needed.
  • Increased cough
  • Skin reactions such as an acne-like rash, drying, cracking, inflammation, and infections
  • Infections in the blood
  • Nail changes
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Changes in bowel movements. Some people have diarrhea while other people have constipation.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Sore mouth or throat. You may have red areas, white patches, or sores that are painful.
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Headache
  • Anemia. You may feel tired and have trouble catching your breath after exertion. Your doctor will monitor your blood count as needed.
  • Swelling (fluid retention) in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Effects on an unborn child. This drug may have harmful effects on an unborn child. Use effective methods of birth control during your cancer treatment. Genetic counseling is available to you to talk about the effect of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. A genetic counselor can review the potential risks to the fetus if you are exposed to this medicine during pregnancy.

Treating side effects

  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine to help prevent or lessen nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, pain, insomnia, and headache.
  • Do not put anything on a rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor or nurse to recommend a product for dry skin.
  • Mouth care is very important. You should brush your teeth gently with a very soft tooth brush. Rinse your mouth with a mix of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after every meal and at bedtime.
  • Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.
  • Cover up when you are out in the sun. Wear wide-brim hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Keep your neck, chest, and back covered.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher when you are out in the sun, even for a short time.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning booths, and tanning beds.
  • Use effective methods of birth control during your cancer treatment.

Food and drug interactions

There are no known interactions of cetuximab with food. This drug may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor’s advice.

Tell your doctor

While you are receiving this drug by IV, tell your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Feeling like your tongue or throat is swelling
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Itching, rash, or hives

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rash or open areas on your skin that may be infected. Symptoms of infection are increased redness, warmth, pain, swelling, and yellow or foul-smelling drainage (pus).
  • Uncontrolled nausea that keeps you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than 3 times in 1 day


Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased cough
  • New onset of headache or severe headache that does not go away with prescribed medicine
  • Rash and other skin reactions that do not go away with prescribed medicine
  • Nausea, vomiting, insomnia, or pain that does not go away with prescribed medicine
  • Painful mouth or throat or you are unable to eat or drink
  • No bowel movement for 3 days or you feel uncomfortable
  • Diarrhea of 5 or 6 stools in 1 day or diarrhea with weakness
  • Extreme weakness that interferes with normal activities
  • Swelling (fluid retention) in your legs, ankles, or feet

Other instructions

Whenever you tell a doctor or nurse your health history, always include that you have received cetuximab.

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