Imatinib tablets (Glivec)

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Take imatinib with a meal or just after a snack - swallow the tablets with a large glass of water.

You will need to have regular check-ups. It is important that you keep the regular appointments with your doctor or hospital.

Type of medicineA chemotherapy medicine
Used forCertain cancers and blood diseases
Also calledGlivec®
Available asTablets

Imatinib is a medicine which is given to treat some cancers and certain blood diseases. It is given in particular to treat leukaemia, which is cancer of the cells in the bone marrow. These are the cells which develop into blood cells.

Imatinib is also used in some myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative diseases (MDS/MPD). These are a group of blood diseases in which certain blood cells grow out of control in an abnormal way. Imatinib is also used to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) which is a cancer of the stomach and bowels, and also dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) which is a type of skin cancer.

In all of these diseases, certain cells in the body grow and multiply too fast. Chemotherapy (anti-cancer) medicines like imatinib work by inhibiting the growth of abnormal cells.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking imatinib it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you have any problems with the way your liver works, or with the way your kidneys work.
  • If you have an infection or feel unwell.
  • If you have a heart condition.
  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start the treatment, read any printed information you have been given by your doctor and the printed manufacturer's leaflet from inside the pack of tablets. These will give you more information about imatinib and will provide a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Imatinib will be prescribed for you by a specialist doctor who is experienced in treating your condition. The doctor will calculate what dose is right for you and will tell you how many tablets to take each day and at what times to take them - it is important that you take imatinib exactly as you are told to. There are two strengths of imatinib tablet - 100 mg and 400 mg. Your dose may be a combination of both strengths of tablet. The directions for taking the tablets will be printed on the label of the pack to remind you, but if you are still unsure about what to do, or if you have any other concerns, you should contact your doctor or hospital clinic for advice.
  • Take your doses at a mealtime, or just afterwards. This will help to protect your stomach from any problems.
  • For each of your doses, swallow the tablets with a large drink of water. Alternatively if you prefer, you can dissolve the tablets in a glassful of water or apple juice. If you do this, make sure that the tablets have dissolved completely and that you drink all of the liquid.
  • Try to take imatinib at the same times of day each day, as this will help you to remember to take your doses regularly.
  • If you do forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember (unless it is nearly time for your next dose, in which case leave out the missed dose). Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • You must try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor or hospital. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. You will need to have regular check-ups during treatment and you will also be weighed regularly. This is because imatinib may cause your body to keep hold of more fluid than normal.
  • Imatinib lowers the number of white cells in your blood and this increases the chance that you may get an infection. You should take precautions to reduce the risk of infection whenever you can. So, if possible, avoid other people with infections and let your doctor know straightaway if you think you are getting a sore throat or if you have a high temperature.
  • It is important that you do not get pregnant or father a child while you are taking imatinib. Make sure you have discussed with your doctor which types of contraception are suitable for you and your partner.
  • While you are taking imatinib, do not have any immunisations (vaccinations) without talking to your doctor first. Imatinib lowers your body's resistance so there is a chance that you may get an infection from some vaccines.
  • If you buy or take any other medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take alongside imatinib. Some painkillers such as paracetamol (or preparations containing paracetamol such as cold and flu remedies) and other 'over-the-counter' medicines, such as St John's wort, can interfere with the way imatinib works.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause side-effects although not everyone experiences them. Before you start treatment with imatinib your doctor will discuss with you the possibility of unwanted side-effects occurring. The table below contains some of the most common ones. You will find a full list of side-effects in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your tablets.

Common imatinib side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
HeadacheAsk your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller
Feeling tired, dizzyDo not drive or use tools or machines until you feel well again
Feeling or being sick, indigestion, abdominal discomfort, lack of appetiteStick to simple foods. Let your doctor know about this, as an anti-sickness medicine may help
Constipation or diarrhoeaDrink plenty of water
Sore mouth, mouth ulcersBrushing your teeth 2-3 times a day with a soft toothbrush and regularly using a mouth rinse may help to prevent this. If mouth ulcers become a problem, speak with your doctor
Itchy rash, muscle cramps, aches and pains, changes in the way things taste, difficulty sleeping, eye problems, nosebleeds, loss of hair, tingling or numbness of the hands and feet, dry skin or eyes, increased weight, and hot flushes/sweatsIf any of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor for advice
Anaemia, and changes to some blood testsYour doctor will regularly check for these

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
  • Please return any unused or unwanted tablets to your clinic or pharmacy to destroy.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufacturer's PIL, Glivec® 400 mg Tablets; Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated October 2013.
  • British National Formulary; 67th Edition (March 2014) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
3799 (v23)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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