by Corey Nahman, Registered Pharmacist;
(New York State License #035512)
"What is Alimta? What is Alimta used for? What are the Alimta side effects?", are three common questions that lung cancer and mesothelioma patients ask.
People are curious about their loved ones' chemotherapy. Alimta is a relatively new chemotherapy drug used to treat certain types of lung cancer.
The purpose of this page is to provide patients with plain-English information regarding Alimta (a cancer drug that is manufactured and marketed by Eli Lilly and Company).
Q: What is Alimta used for?
A: Alimta is a chemotherapy drug used to treat 2 types of lung cancers: Non-small cell lung cancer and a rare cancer called "malignant pleural mesothelioma" when surgery is not an option for the patient.
Q: How does Alimta Work?
A: Alimta works by interfering with enzymes that the cancer cell needs to replicate. It blocks folate (a B vitamin cancer cells use to make new genetic material) therefore disrupting the ability of cancer cells grow and reproduce.
Alimta Drug Information Resources
Alimta.com; source = Eli Lilly & Company; this is the official Alimta website. It contains information regarding understanding cancer, treatment with Alimta, therapy resources, pre-treatment preparations and real life stories and testimonials from people who have taken Alimta.
Alimta Prescribing Information; source = WebMD; this is the actual information that your doctor and pharmacist reads to familiarize themselves with Alimta. It contains information regarding indications, dose, side effects, pharmacology, warnings and precautions.
Alimta Patient Information; source = WebMD; a simplified web page that contains information regarding Alimta uses, side effects, precautions, drug interactions and dosage.
Alimta Patient Information; source = Mayo Clinic; this information is similar to the flyers that you get from the drugstore when you pick up your prescriptions; the "precautions" section is particularly useful for cancer patients who are taking Alimta.
What is malignant pleural mesothelioma?, what side effects are associated with Alimta.
FDA's Alimta Webpage source = FDA; US Government; this web page contains a press release regarding Alimta, the Alimta label, the Alimta Package insert and Approval letter and a consumer drug information sheet regarding Alimta.
Q: Is Alimta given alone or is it mixed with other cancer drugs?
A: For non-small cell lung cancer Alimta may be used all by itself. When you are treating mesothelioma, Alimta should be used in combination with another cancer drug called cisplatin.
Q: How do I prepare for therapy with Alimta?
Q: Is there anything I should take prior to taking the Alimta?
A: Yes! There are a few things you must take to reduce the possibility of side effects so that your body can better tolerate the Alimta.
Your doctor should give you 4 mg of dexamethasone (a steroid) twice a day on the day before, the day of and the day after you get the Alimta. (Dexamethasone can irritate the stomach so it is important that you take dexamethasone with food. Never take dexamethasone on an empty stomach).
Taking the dexamethasone has been shown to reduce the likelihood or severity skin rashes as a result of taking Alimta.
- You should also take a low dose of folic acid (between 350 and 1,000 micrograms) or a multivitamin containing folic acid for at least 5 of the 7 days before you start therapy with Alimta. You will continue taking the folic acid every day until 21 days after your last cycle of ALIMTA.
- You will need a B-12 shot during the week that you start taking the Alimta. Then you will get another B-12 shot about every 9 weeks, probably on the same day as you receive your ALIMTA chemotherapy for the rest of your cycles.
- If you are taking and non-steroidal anti inflammatory drug (such as aspirin, Mobic, Alleve, naporoxen, etc) you must tell your doctor. He will probably ask you to discontinue taking these drugs for a while.
Click HERE for more information regarding the special things you must do prior to your treatment with Alimta. (from Alimta.com - the official Alimta web site)
Q: How is Alimta given?
A: Alimta is given intravenously. When Alimta is given as a single agent (as is the case in non-small cell lung cancer) it is given as a 10-minute infusion on Day 1 of each 21-day cycle.
When Alimta is used to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma, it is given as a 10-minute infusion on Day 1 of each 21-day cycle. In this situation the patient would also be taking cisplatin infused over 2 hours beginning about 1/2 hour after Alimta I.V. is finished.
Q: What is the dosage schedule for receiving Alimta?
A: For non-small cell lung cancer, they usually give you the Alimta in your doctor's office as a 10-minute infusion. Then for the next 20-days, you don't get anything. This is known as a 21-day cycle (1 day of therapy followed by 20 days of no therapy).
Then on the 22nd day, you start the process over again. Depending on your illness and how your body responds to the Alimta, your doctor may give you several cycles.
If you have malignant pleural mesothelioma, the process is similar. They give you your 10-minute infusion of Alimta. Then you take a 30-minute break. Then they give you the cisplatin infusion 1/2 hour after your Alimta infusion is finished. The cisplatin infusion takes longer. The entire process can take up to 2-hours.
Q: Can I drink Alcohol when I am on Alimta?
A: The alcohol can affect the way your body metabolizes the folic acid and the b-12 that you take prior to getting your Alimta. You should discuss this issue with your doctor.
Q: What are the side effects associated with Alimta.
A: Alimta is associated with fever, skin reactions and rash. Alimta is also associated with nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, dehydration and fatigue.
Taking the folic acid, B-12 and dexamethasone reduces the frequency and intensity of the side effects. Alimta is also associated with certain anemias such as neutropenia and thrombocytopenia.
If you are taking Alimta in combination with cisplatin, you are subject to more side effects (because you are taking 2 drugs).
Side effects associated with the Alimta/cisplatin combination include anemias, renal side effects, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, sores in your mouth, diarrhea, dehydration, problems swallowing, shortness of breath, chest pain, mood alteration, nerve pain, infection and skin reactions and rashes.
It might seem like a lot of side effects but your doctor has treatments and therapy for each and every possible side effect.
It is important that you tell your doctor if you are experiencing a side effect especially fever, diarrhea or rash.
Even if it is in the middle of the night or on a Sunday or Christmas Eve, pick up the phone and call your doctor or beep him at once.
If you are getting a side effect you want to catch it early on. The earlier you treat the side effect, the less likely it will get worse.
Q: Is there anything else I should know?
A: Try to get plenty of rest. Chemotherapy can really wear you out. The better rested you are the better you can deal with your chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can drain your energy so you have to try to build up your strength. Drink a lot of fluids and try your best to eat.
Eat whatever you like. Ice cream or pudding is a good food to eat because it contains a lot of calories.
Useful Lung Cancer Information:
The Cheerful Oncologist - useful blog published by medical oncologist Dr Craig Hildreth regarding all types of cancer. He explains scientific topics in easy-to-understand terms and keeps you up-to-date about recent cancer news.
Lung Cancer News - From Google; recent newspaper and magazine reports regarding lung cancer; updated in real time from more than 2,500 news sources.
Lung Cancer.org - important source of information for our lung cancer patients and their families, and an excellent referral to CancerCare's free professional counseling, education programs and financial assistance for people with lung cancer.
MedlinePlus: Lung Cancer - Run as a service of the U.S. National Library Of Science and the National Institutes Of health; excellent starting place in your quest for knowledge and information regarding lung cancer; very reliable information.
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