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Rituximab is available for intravenous (IV) use.

How It Works

Rituximab belongs to a group of medicines known as monoclonal antibodies. It is designed to recognize specific proteins that are found on the surface of some lymphoma cells. The monoclonal antibody recognizes the protein and locks onto it (like a key in a lock). This may then trigger the body's immune system to attack and destroy the cancer cells.

Why It Is Used

Rituximab may be used alone or in combination with other chemotherapy medicines to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Rituximab is used with ibritumomab as part of targeted radiation therapy.

Rituximab is also used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is often used in combination with other medicines such as methotrexate.

How Well It Works

Rituximab is an effective treatment for NHL and CLL. It is used in combination with other chemotherapy medicines.

Rituximab can decrease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as tender and swollen joints.

Side Effects

Side effects of rituximab are common and may include:

  • Fever and chills. This is more common within the first 1 to 2 hours of the first infusion.
  • Swelling of the face, lips, and eyelids (angioedema).
  • Flushing.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Skin rash.
  • Headache.
  • Sore throat.

In some cases, rituximab has been associated with serious side effects such as breathing difficulty, heart problems, or severe infection. For this reason, the use of rituximab is closely watched.

Rituximab may make heart damage worse in people who already have heart disease. Frequent tests are needed to monitor heart function while this medicine is taken.

In some people who have a history of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, rituximab may cause the virus to begin multiplying again, leading to severe liver problems. These people should have tests to monitor liver function during and for several months following rituximab treatment. Also, people who have a high risk of HBV infection should be screened before starting treatment with rituximab to make sure an HBV infection is not present.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Rituximab may cause birth defects. Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or if you wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are taking it.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Revised June 7, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.