Ibritumomab Tiuxetan (Zevalin®)

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: December 3, 2015

Pronounced: EYE-bri-TOOM-oh-mab tye-UX-e-tan

Classification: Radiolabeled Monoclonal Antibody

About Ibritumomab Tiuxetan

Ibritumomab Tiuxetan is a synthetic (man made) antibody directed against a protein called CD20, found on the surface of B cells. Antibodies are developed by the immune system to destroy foreign material (such as a germ). Ibritumomab tiuxetan binds to B cells, causing the immune system to respond and kill the cells. This manmade antibody has a radioactive isotope attached (called Yttrium-90 or Y-90) to it, which gets inserted into the B cells. The isotope induces cellular damage by the forming free radicals, which damage not only the targeted B cells, but also cells in the surrounding area, a phenomenon known as the "bystander effect".

How to Take Ibritumomab Tiuxetan

This treatment is given intravenously (IV, by vein) over a number of days, in combination with the medication rituximab. Your dose will depend on body size, as well as platelet levels prior to receiving treatment. You will receive two doses of rituximab, about 1 week apart. The ibritumomab tiuxetan (Zevalin) will be given after the second dose of rituximab.

Even when carefully and correctly administered by trained personnel, this medication may cause a feeling of burning and pain at the infusion site. There is a risk that this medication may leak out of the vein at the injection site, resulting in tissue damage that can be severe. If the area of injection becomes red, swollen, or painful at anytime during or after the injection, notify your doctor or nurse immediately. Do not apply anything to the site unless instructed by your doctor or nurse.

You or anyone you live with should avoid having live or live-attenuated vaccines while receiving this medication; including oral polio, nasal flu vaccine, measles, rotovirus, yellow fever.

Possible Side Effects of Ibritumomab Tiuxetan

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of ibritumomab tiuxetan Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:

Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)

White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.

Tips to preventing infection:

  • Washing hands, both yours and your visitors, is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Avoid large crowds and people who are sick (i.e.: those who have a cold, fever or cough or live with someone with these symptoms).
  • When working in your yard, wear protective clothing including long pants and gloves.
  • Do not handle pet waste.
  • Keep all cuts or scratches clean.
  • Shower or bath daily and perform frequent mouth care.
  • Do not cut cuticles or ingrown nails. You may wear nail polish, but not fake nails.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse before scheduling dental appointments or procedures.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse before you, or someone you live with, has any vaccinations.

Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)

Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues in your body. When the red cell count is low, you may feel tired or weak. You should let your doctor or nurse know if you experience any shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or pain in your chest. If the count gets too low, you may receive a blood transfusion.

Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)

Platelets help your blood clot, so when the count is low you are at a higher risk of bleeding. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any excess bruising or bleeding, including nose bleeds, bleeding gums or blood in your urine or stool. If the platelet count becomes too low, you may receive a transfusion of platelets.

  • Do not use a razor (an electric razor is fine).
  • Avoid contact sports and activities that can result in injury or bleeding.
  • Do not take aspirin (salicylic acid), non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Motrin®, Aleve®, Advil®, etc. as these can all increase the risk of bleeding. Unless your healthcare team tells you otherwise, you may take acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Do not floss or use toothpicks and use a soft-bristle toothbrush to brush your teeth.

Secondary Malignancies

There is a low risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and/or acute leukemia due to treatment with this medication, which can occur many years after treatment. 

Infusion-Related Side Effects

The rituximab infusion can cause a reaction that may lead to difficulty breathing, itching, facial swelling, chills, fever, low blood pressure, nausea and vomiting. You will receive Tylenol and diphenhydramine prior to the rituximab infusion to help prevent these reactions. Reactions are most common during the first rituximab infusion. Notify your doctor or nurse if you have any changes in how you are feeling during the infusions.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Other Serious Skin Reactions

Stevens Johnson Syndrome is a rare, but serious, allergic reaction that affects the skin and mucous membranes. It typically starts as a rash or painful blisters, and can progress to serious damage to the skin, and in some cases, death. Other serious skin reactions have also been reported after treatment with this medication. It is important that you report any rash or other skin changes or discomfort to your healthcare providers immediately. 


Fatigue is very common during cancer treatment and is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that is not usually relieved by rest. While on cancer treatment, and for a period after, you may need to adjust your schedule to manage fatigue. Plan times to rest during the day and conserve energy for more important activities. Exercise can help combat fatigue; a simple daily walk with a friend can help.  Talk to your healthcare team for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.

Reproductive Concerns

Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant or father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment and for at least 12 months after treatment. Even if your menstrual cycle stops or you believe you are not producing sperm, you could still be fertile and conceive. You should not breastfeed while receiving this medication.


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