Dabrafenib is a type of targeted cancer drug called a cancer growth blocker. You might have it as a treatment for:
- melanoma skin cancer that can’t be removed with surgery (unresectable) or has spread to another area of the body (metastatic or advanced melanoma)
- stage 3 melanoma skin cancer that has been removed with surgery (to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back)
- advanced non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
You can only have dabrafenib if your cancer has a change (mutation) in the BRAF gene. Your doctor will check for this mutation before you can start this drug.
How dabrafenib works
Dabrafenib is a type of cancer growth blocker. It works by targeting certain proteins made by the changed BRAF gene that helps cancer cells to grow. By blocking these proteins, dabrafenib stops or slows down the growth of cancer cells.
How you have dabrafenib
You take dabrafenib as a capsule.
You have it on its own or with another drug called trametinib.
You swallow it whole with a full glass of water. You take it on an empty stomach. This means you take it at least 1 hour before a meal or 2 hours after a meal.
When you have dabrafenib
You usually take dabrafenib twice a day, morning and evening, 12 hours apart.
For advanced cancer, you take dabrafenib for as long as it is working and the side effects aren’t too bad.
You take dabrafenib for up to 12 months if you are having it to try to prevent melanoma skin cancer coming back after surgery.
You have regular blood tests, scans and other tests during this treatment.
Your doctor or nurse will explain what tests you need.
How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:
- you have severe side effects
- your side effects aren’t getting any better
- your side effects are getting worse
Early treatment can help manage side effects better.
We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.
Common side effects
These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
High temperature and chills
You might get a high temperature. Or you might feel cold or start shivering (chills).
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
Headaches and dizziness
Let your doctor or nurse know if you have headaches. They can give you painkillers. Don’t drive or operate machinery if you feel dizzy.
It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you have a cough. This could be due to an infection, such as pneumonia.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques can all help.
It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.
Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.
Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.
Symptoms of skin problems can include wart-like growths and thickening of the skin. Less commonly your skin might be more sensitive to the sun, you might develop a rash, dry skin, itching, reddening, or skin tags.
Your doctor will check your skin regularly through treatment.
Your hair may thin or you might lose hair in certain areas (patches). You're unlikely to lose all your hair. It usually grows back when you finish treatment.
Other areas of hair that might be affected include your eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg and sometimes pubic hair.
Soreness, redness and peeling on palms and soles of feet
The skin on your hands and feet may become sore, red, or may peel. You may also have tingling, numbness, pain and dryness. This is called hand-foot syndrome or palmar plantar syndrome.
Moisturise your skin regularly. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what moisturiser to use.
Arm, leg, joint or muscle pain
You might have aches or pain in your arms, legs, muscles or joints. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.
Tiredness and weakness
You might feel very tired and as though you lack energy.
Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.
Occasional side effects
These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- types of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma
- low levels of a type of mineral salt (phosphate) in your blood
- high blood sugars
- difficulty having a poo (constipation)
- flu-like symptoms - you might have symptoms such as headaches, aching muscles, a high temperature or runny nose
Rare side effects
These side effects happen in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- melanoma skin cancer
- an allergic reaction – you may get a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face
- eye problems – such as blurred vision, eye pain, redness in your eye, changes in vision, and flashes of light
- inflammation of your pancreas – you might get severe tummy pain, feel or be sick, a high temperature or you may have loose poo (stool)
- kidney problems – your blood test results may show your kidneys aren’t working properly, or symptoms might include confusion, not passing enough urine or shortness of breath
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do I need to know?
Other medicines, foods and drink
Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.
It is not known whether this treatment affects fertility in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.
Pregnancy and contraception
This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 4 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.
If you’re taking hormonal contraceptives like the pill, injections or patches you should use an additional barrier contraceptive such as a condom. It’s not known if dabrafenib affects the way hormone contraceptives work.
It is not known whether this drug comes through into the breast milk. Doctors usually advise that you don’t breastfeed during this treatment.
Treatment or other conditions
Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.
You can have:
- other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment
Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your
Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine.
If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.
Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.