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How It Works

Cetuximab belongs to a group of drugs known as monoclonal antibodies. It blocks a protein called epidermal growth factor that helps cancer cells grow and multiply. Cetuximab is an intravenous (IV) drug.

Monoclonal antibodies such as cetuximab may not work for some people. So before you have this treatment, your tumour tissue will be checked for certain gene changes (mutations), such as the wild-type KRAS mutation.

Why It Is Used

Cetuximab is used alone or in combination with other chemotherapy drugs to treat metastatic or recurrent colorectal cancer.

How Well It Works

Cetuximab helps some other chemotherapy drugs work better than they do alone. For example, when used with irinotecan, cetuximab slows tumour growth in approximately 23% of people who have metastatic or recurrent colorectal cancer.1

Side Effects

Cetuximab can cause serious side effects, usually during the first treatment. Side effects may include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Scarring of the lungs (interstitial lung disease).
  • Skin rash.
  • Dry skin.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Constipation.
  • Abdominal (belly) pain.

Cetuximab may cause more serious side effects, such as loss of consciousness, shock, cardiac arrest, and not being able to breathe. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say that people who take this medicine should be watched closely while they are getting this medicine and for 1 hour afterward.

Health Canada and the FDA also warn that some people may get a severe rash and/or infections when they take this medicine.

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

What To Think About

Cetuximab should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

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

Cetuximab has been approved for use only in adults. There is no specific information comparing use of cetuximab in children with its use in other age groups.

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



  1. Venook A (2005). Critical evaluation of current treatments of metastatic colorectal cancer. Oncologist, 10(4): 250–261.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised November 1, 2010

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