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Generic Name: imatinib (im MA ta nib)
Brand Names: Gleevec

Medically reviewed on November 8, 2017

What is Gleevec?

Gleevec (imatinib) interferes with the growth of some cancer cells.

Gleevec is used to treat certain types of leukemia (blood cancer), bone marrow disorders, and skin cancer.

Gleevec is also used to treat certain tumors of the stomach and digestive system.

Important information

Gleevec can lower blood cells that help your body fight infections and help your blood to clot. You may get an infection or bleed more easily. Call your doctor if you have unusual bruising or bleeding, or signs of infection (fever, chills, body aches).

Gleevec may increase the risk of liver problems. Tell your doctor if you have upper stomach pain, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

Gleevec may increase the risk of fluid retention or heart problems. Tell your doctor if you have swelling or rapid weight gain, shortness of breath, fast or slow heart rate, weak pulse, or fainting.

Before taking this medicine

You should not use Gleevec if you are allergic to imatinib.

To make sure Gleevec is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have ever had:

  • liver disease (especially hepatitis B);

  • kidney disease;

  • underactive thyroid, recent or upcoming thyroid surgery;

  • heart disease, congestive heart failure;

  • a stomach ulcer or bleeding;

  • diabetes; or

  • chemotherapy.

Do not use Gleevec if you are pregnant. It could harm the unborn baby or cause birth defects. Use effective birth control to prevent pregnancy while you are using this medicine and for at least 14 days after your last dose.

You may need to have a negative pregnancy test before starting this treatment.

Imatinib can pass into breast milk and may cause side effects in the nursing baby. You should not breast-feed while taking Gleevec and for at least 1 month after your last dose.

How should I take Gleevec?

Take Gleevec exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Follow all directions on your prescription label. Do not take this medicine in larger or smaller amounts or for longer than recommended.

Gleevec should be taken with a meal and a large glass of water. Do not take this medicine on an empty stomach.

You may dissolve an Gleevec tablet in a glass of water or apple juice to make the pill easier to swallow. Be sure to use the correct number of tablets to get an entire dose. Use about 2 ounces of liquid for each 100-milligram tablet, or 7 ounces of liquid for each 400-milligram tablet. Stir the mixture and drink all of it right away.

Do not crush, chew, or break a tablet. The medicine from a crushed or broken tablet can be dangerous if it gets in your eyes, mouth, or nose, or on your skin. If this occurs, wash your skin with soap and water or rinse your eyes with water. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to safely handle and dispose of a crushed or broken tablet.

Gleevec can lower blood cells that help your body fight infections and help your blood to clot. Your blood will need to be tested often. Your cancer treatments may be delayed based on the results of these tests.

You will also need frequent tests to check your liver function.

Do not stop using Gleevec without your doctor's advice.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

See also: Dosage Information (in more detail)

What happens if I miss a dose?

Take the missed dose as soon as you remember, making sure you also eat a meal and drink a large glass of water. Skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next dose. Do not take extra medicine to make up the missed dose.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while taking Gleevec?

This medicine may cause blurred vision and may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert and able to see clearly. Dizziness or severe drowsiness can cause falls, accidents, or severe injuries.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may interact with imatinib and lead to potentially dangerous effects. Avoid the use of grapefruit products while taking Gleevec.

Avoid being near people who are sick or have infections. Tell your doctor at once if you develop signs of infection.

Avoid activities that may increase your risk of bleeding or injury. Use extra care to prevent bleeding while shaving or brushing your teeth.

This medicine can pass into body fluids (urine, feces, vomit). Caregivers should wear rubber gloves while cleaning up a patient's body fluids, handling contaminated trash or laundry or changing diapers. Wash hands before and after removing gloves. Wash soiled clothing and linens separately from other laundry.

Gleevec side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction to Gleevec (hives, difficult breathing, swelling in your face or throat) or a severe skin reaction (fever, sore throat, burning in your eyes, skin pain, red or purple skin rash that spreads and causes blistering and peeling).

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • fluid retention - shortness of breath (even while lying down), swelling, rapid weight gain;

  • fluid build-up in the lungs - pain when you breathe, wheezing, gasping for breath, cough with foamy mucus;

  • liver problems - upper stomach pain, loss of appetite, dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes);

  • low blood cell counts - fever, cold or flu symptoms, easy bruising, unusual bleeding, mouth sores, pale skin, unusual tiredness, feeling light-headed, cold hands and feet;

  • signs of stomach bleeding - bloody or tarry stools, coughing up blood or vomit that looks like coffee grounds;

  • signs of tumor cell breakdown - confusion, fast or slow heart rate, fluttering in your chest, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tingling in your hands or feet, tingling around your mouth; or

  • thyroid symptoms - tiredness, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, depression, slow heart rate, unusual weight gain, feeling more sensitive to cold temperatures.

Gleevec can affect growth in children and teenagers. Tell your doctor if your child is not growing at a normal rate while using this medicine.

Common Gleevec side effects may include:

  • nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea;

  • joint or muscle pain;

  • skin rash; or

  • feeling tired.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

See also: Side effects (in more detail)

What other drugs will affect Gleevec?

Sometimes it is not safe to use certain medications at the same time. Some drugs can affect your blood levels of other drugs you take, which may increase side effects or make the medications less effective.

Many drugs can interact with imatinib. Not all possible interactions are listed here. Tell your doctor about all your current medicines and any you start or stop using, especially:

  • an antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral medicine;

  • seizure medicine;

  • a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven); or

  • a vitamin or mineral supplement that contains iron.

This list is not complete and many other drugs can interact with imatinib. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Give a list of all your medicines to any healthcare provider who treats you.

Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use Gleevec only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.