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Is Tasigna a form of chemotherapy?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on April 5, 2023.

Official answer


Key Points

  • Tasigna is an oral targeted drug therapy classified as a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). It is not considered a traditional chemotherapy (”chemo”) treatment, but it is used to kill cancer.
  • Targeted drug therapies find and attack specific types of cancer cells and may cause less damage to healthy cells.
  • Serious side effects can still occur with targeted drug therapy.

Tasigna (nilotinib) is approved by the FDA to treat Philadelphia chromosome positive chronic myeloid leukemia (Ph+ CML) in adults and children who are at least 1 year old. CML is a form of blood and bone marrow cancer.

Tyrosine kinase enzymes are involved in many cell functions, including cell communication, cell growth and cell division. Blocking these enzymes with tyrosine kinase inhibitors may help to slow cancer growth in leukemia.

Chemotherapy was once the main treatment for leukemia, but it is not used as often now. Other treatments such as the TKI inhibitors are more effective. Chemotherapy may still be used if Tasigna is no longer effective or as part of a stem cell transplant.

Tasigna comes as a 50, 150 or 200 mg capsule. It is usually taken by mouth twice a day (every 12 hours) on an empty stomach. Do not eat any food for at least 2 hours before you take your dose and for at least 1 hour after you take your dose. Swallow the capsules whole with water. Take this medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

The most common side effects that occurred in at least 20% of patients (in both children and adults) include:

  • nausea
  • rash
  • headache
  • feeling tired
  • itching
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • cough
  • constipation
  • muscle and joint pain
  • common cold symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, sore throat)
  • fever
  • night sweats

Hair loss (alopecia) has been reported as a side effect in 11% to 13% of patients treated with Tasigna for CML, but it was not reported as a severe (grade 3/4) side effect.

Side effects in your blood may occur. These include low platelets (blood cells to help with clotting), low white blood cells (used to help fight infection) and low red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body (anemia). Be sure to talk to your doctor about side effects with this drug before you start treatment.

This is not all the information you need to know about Tasigna (nilotinib) for safe and effective use and does not take the place of talking to your doctor about your treatment. Review the full Tasigna information here and discuss this information and any questions you have with your doctor or other health care provider.


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