Sunitinib | Side Effects, Dosage, Uses & More
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Generic Name:

sunitinib, Oral capsule

All Brands

  • Sutent
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for sunitinib

Oral capsule
1

Sunitinib is used to treat advanced renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer). It’s also used to treat pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors that have progressed and cannot be treated with surgery. This drug is also used to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors. These are a rare cancer of the stomach, bowel, or esophagus. Sunitinib is given when the tumor didn’t respond to the drug imatinib (Gleevec).

2

This drug comes as a capsule you take by mouth.

3

Sunitinib is available as the brand-name drug called Sutent. It isn’t available as a generic drug.

4

The more common side effects of this drug can include weakness, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. They can also include constipation, stomach pain, and loss of appetite.

5

In some cases, sunitinib can cause serious side effects. These can include life-threatening liver problems.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

FDA warning

This drug has a black box warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A black box warning alerts doctors and patients about drug effects that may be dangerous.

Liver problems warning. This drug can cause serious liver problems. These include liver failure, which can cause death. Your doctor will check your liver function before and during your treatment with this drug. If you develop liver problems, your doctor may tell you to stop taking this drug. Tell your doctor right away if you have any signs of liver problems. Symptoms can include itching, yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes, dark-colored urine, or pain in the upper right part of your abdomen.

Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS)

This drug may lead to TLS. This condition is caused by the fast breakdown of cancer cells. It can cause death. Your doctor may do blood tests to check for signs of TLS. Symptoms can include nausea, shortness of breath, irregular heart rate, cloudy urine, and tiredness.

Heart problems

This drug can cause serious heart problems. These can be fatal. These can include heart failure, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle problems), and heart rhythm changes. Tell your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of heart problems. These can include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, swollen feet and ankles, dizziness, fainting, and an abnormal heart rhythm.

Bleeding problems

This medication can cause serious bleeding problems. These can be fatal. Call your doctor right away if you have signs of bleeding problems. Symptoms can include unusual bruising or bleeding, painful or swollen stomach, black or sticky stools, blood in your urine, headache, confusion, or vomiting blood.

Drug features

This drug is a prescription drug. It comes as a capsule you take by mouth.

This drug is available as the brand-name drug Sutent. It isn’t available as a generic drug.

Why it's used

This drug is used to treat:

  • Advanced renal cell carcinoma. This is a type of kidney cancer.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor. This is a rare cancer of the stomach, bowel, or esophagus. This drug is used when the medication imatinib (Gleevec) didn’t stop your cancer from growing or when you cannot take imatinib mesylate.
  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. This is a type of pancreatic cancer that has progressed and cannot be treated with surgery.

How it works

This drug belongs to a class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.

This drug works by targeting certain proteins in cancer cells. This action stops the cancer from growing and spreading.

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SECTION 2 of 5

sunitinib Side Effects

Oral capsule

More common side effects

The more common side effects of sunitinib can include:

  • skin that looks yellow

  • lightened skin and hair

  • tiredness

  • weakness

  • fever

  • cough

  • shortness of breath

  • diarrhea

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • stomach pain

  • constipation

  • changes in how food tastes

  • loss of appatite

  • mouth sores

  • rash or other skin changes, including:

    • drier, thicker, or cracking skin
    • blisters or rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
  • pain or swelling in your arms or legs

  • bleeding, such as nosebleeds or bleeding from cuts

If these effects are mild, they may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious side effects

Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 9-1-1 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency. Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • Liver problems. Symptoms can include:

    • itching
    • yellowing of your skin or the whites or your eyes
    • dark urine
    • pain or discomfort in the upper right part of your abdomen
  • Heart problems. These can include heart failure and heart muscle problems. Symptoms can include:

    • extreme tiredness
    • shortness of breath
    • swollen feet and ankles
  • Abnormal heart rhythm changes. Symptoms can include:

    • dizziness
    • fainting
    • irregular heart rate
  • High blood pressure. Most people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. Your doctor will check your blood pressure while you’re taking this drug.

  • Abnormal bleeding. Symptoms can include:

    • painful, swollen stomach
    • vomiting blood
    • black, sticky stools
    • blood in your urine
    • headache
    • change in your mental status
  • Jaw bone problems. Symptoms can include:

    • pain, swelling, or redness of your gums
    • gums that don’t heal after dental work
    • loose teeth
    • exposed bone in your mouth or jaw area
  • Tumor lysis syndrome. Symptoms can include:

    • nausea
    • shortness of breath
    • irregular heart rate
    • cloudy urine
    • tiredness
  • Protein in your urine. Your doctor will check you for this problem. If you have too much protein in your urine, your doctor may tell you to stop taking this drug.

  • Skin problems. Symptoms can include:

    • rash
    • widespread blistering or peeling of your skin
    • blistering and peeling on the inside of your mouth
  • Hormone problems. These can include thyroid and adrenal gland problems. Symptoms can include:

    • tiredness that gets worse and doesn’t go away
    • depression
    • headache
    • loss of appetite
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • weight gain
    • weight loss
    • irregular menstrual periods
    • hair loss
    • being more sensitive to heat
    • nervousness or agitation
    • sweating
    • tremors
    • fast heart rate
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Your risk is higher if you have diabetes or take diabetes drugs. Your doctor may check your blood sugar levels during your treatment with this drug. They may need to adjust the dosage of your diabetes medications. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include:

    • headache
    • drowsiness
    • weakness
    • dizziness
    • confusion
    • irritability
    • hunger
    • fast heart rate
    • sweating
    • feeling jittery
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

This drug doesn’t cause drowsiness, but it can make you feel very weak. You shouldn’t drive, use machinery, or do other tasks that require alertness until you know you can function normally.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

sunitinib May Interact with Other Medications

Oral capsule

Sunitinib can interact with other medications, vitamins, or herbs you may be taking. An interaction is when a substance changes the way a drug works. This can be harmful or prevent the drug from working well.

To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. To find out how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Food interactions

You shouldn’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while you’re taking this drug. Grapefruit may cause sunitinib to build up in your body. This may increase your risk of side effects.

Medications that might interact with this drug

Interactions that increase your risk of side effects
  • Side effects from other drugs: Taking sunitinib with certain medications raises your risk of side effects from those drugs. Examples of these drugs include:
    • Bisphosphonates, such as alendronate, etidronate, ibandronate, pamidronate, risedronate, tiludronate, and zoledronic acid
      • You may have an increased risk of severe jaw bone problems if you take or have taken a bisphosphonate. Tell your doctor if you’ve taken any drugs for osteoporosis before you start taking sunitinib.
  • Side effects from sunitinib: Taking sunitinib with certain medications raises your risk of side effects from sunitinib. This is because the amount of sunitinib in your body may be increased. Examples of these drugs include:
    • Ketoconazole, itraconazole, clarithromycin, atazanavir, indinavir, nefazodone, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, telithromycin, and voriconazole
      • Taking these drugs with sunitinib may cause problems with your heart, thyroid, or bleeding. It may also cause high blood pressure, low blood sugar, and skin reactions. If you take any of these drugs, your doctor may decrease your dose of sunitinib.

Interactions that can make your drugs less effective
  • When sunitinib is less effective: When sunitinib is used with certain drugs, it may not work as well to treat your condition. This is because the amount of sunitinib in your body may be decreased. Examples of these drugs include:
    • Dexamethasone, phenytoin, carbamazepine, rifampin, rifabutin, rifapentin, phenobarbital, and St. John's wort
      • If you take any of these drugs, your doctor may increase your dosage of sunitinib.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.
Drug warnings
heart problem warning
People with heart problems

This drug may cause heart problems. These include heart failure, heart muscle problems, and heart rhythm problems. These can be fatal (cause death). Tell your doctor about your heart problems before taking this drug.

high blood pressure warning
People with high blood pressure

This drug may increase your blood pressure. Your doctor may check your blood pressure more often during treatment. They may also adjust your blood pressure medications.

thyroid or adrenal gland
People with thyroid or adrenal gland problems

This drug may affect your thyroid or adrenal glands. Tell your doctor if you have hormone, thyroid, or adrenal gland problems before taking this medication. Ask your doctor if this drug is safe for you.

low blood sugar warning
People with low blood sugar or diabetes

This drug may cause low blood sugar. Your doctor may test your blood sugar levels regularly during treatment with this drug. They may need to adjust the dosage of your diabetes drugs.

kidney problem warning
People with kidney problems

If you have a history of kidney problems other than cancer, let your doctor know. This drug may cause protein to spill out into your urine. If you have a history of protein in your urine, ask your doctor if this drug is safe for you to take. If you’re on dialysis, your doctor may adjust your dosage.

liver problem warning
People with liver problems

This drug may increase your risk of liver damage. This may lead to liver failure and death. Your doctor will check your liver function during your treatment with this drug. If you have severe liver disease, your doctor may adjust your dosage.

bleeding warning
People with bleeding problems

This drug may cause abnormal bleeding. This can sometimes be fatal (cause death). Tell your doctor if you have any bleeding problems before taking this drug.

osteoporosis warning
People with osteoporosis

If you’re taking or have taken a bisphosphonate drug for osteoporosis, you have a higher risk of severe jaw bone problems. Your doctor may check your mouth and tell you to see a dentist before you start taking this drug. To lower your risk of problems, see your dentist and brush and floss your teeth regularly.

pregnancy warning
Pregnant women

This drug is a category D pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in humans has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. This drug should only be used during pregnancy in serious cases where it's needed to treat a dangerous condition in the mother.

Talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Ask your doctor to tell you about the specific harm that may be done to the fetus. This drug should be used only if the potential risk to the fetus is acceptable given the drug’s potential benefit.

breast feeding warning
Women who are breast-feeding

This drug may pass into breast milk and may cause side effects in a child who is breastfed.

Talk to your doctor if you breastfeed your child. You may need to decide whether to stop breastfeeding or stop taking this medication.

childrens warning
For children

This drug hasn’t been studied in children. It shouldn’t be used in people younger than 18 years.

call the doctor
When to call the doctor

Call your doctor right away if you become pregnant while taking this drug.

allergy warning
Allergies

This drug can cause a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms can include:

  • trouble breathing
  • swelling of your throat or tongue

If you have an allergic reaction, call your doctor or local poison control center right away. If your symptoms are severe, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Don’t take this drug again if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to it. Taking it again could be fatal (cause death).

SECTION 4 of 5

How to Take sunitinib (Dosage)

Oral capsule

All possible dosages and drug forms may not be included here. Your dosage, drug form, and how often you take the drug will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What are you taking this medication for?

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor

Brand: Sutent

Form: oral capsule
Strengths: 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg
Adult dosage (ages 18 years and older)
  • Typical dosage: 50 mg taken once per day for 4 weeks (28 days). Then you’ll stop taking it for 2 weeks (14 days). You’ll repeat this cycle of 4 weeks on and 2 weeks off the drug for as long as your doctor says.
  • Dosage adjustments: Your doctor may adjust your dosage depending on how your body responds to this drug. Your doctor may temporarily or permanently stop your treatment with this drug if you have severe side effects.
  • Maximum dosage: 87.5 mg taken once per day
Child dosage (ages 0–17 years)

Sunitinib hasn’t been studied in children. It shouldn’t be used in people younger than 18 years.

Special considerations

People who are taking dexamethasone, phenytoin, carbamazepine, rifampin, rifabutin, rifapentin, phenobarbital, or St. John's wort: These drugs may decrease the amount of sunitinib in your body. You may need a higher dosage while you’re taking these medications. Your doctor may increase your dosage up to a maximum of 87.5 mg per day.

People who are taking ketoconazole, itraconazole, clarithromycin, atazanavir, indinavir, nefazodone, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, telithromycin, or voriconazole: These drugs may increase the amount of sunitinib in your body. You may need a reduced dosage while you’re taking these drugs. Your doctor may decrease your dosage to a minimum of 37.5 mg per day.

Advanced renal cell carcinoma

Brand: Sutent

Form: oral capsule
Strengths: 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg
Adult dosage (ages 18 years and older)
  • Typical dosage: 50 mg taken once per day for 4 weeks (28 days). Then you’ll stop taking it for 2 weeks (14 days). You’ll repeat this cycle of 4 weeks on and 2 weeks off the drug for as long as your doctor says.
  • Dosage adjustments: Your doctor may adjust your dosage depending on how your body responds to this drug. Your doctor may temporarily or permanently stop your treatment with this drug if you have severe side effects.
  • Maximum dosage: 87.5 mg taken once per day
Child dosage (ages 0–17 years)

Sunitinib hasn’t been studied in children. It shouldn’t be used in people younger than 18 years.

Special considerations

People who are taking dexamethasone, phenytoin, carbamazepine, rifampin, rifabutin, rifapentin, phenobarbital, or St. John's wort: These drugs may decrease the amount of sunitinib in your body. You may need a higher dosage while you’re taking these medications. Your doctor may increase your dosage up to a maximum of 87.5 mg per day.

People who are taking ketoconazole, itraconazole, clarithromycin, atazanavir, indinavir, nefazodone, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, telithromycin, or voriconazole: These drugs may increase the amount of sunitinib in your body. You may need a reduced dosage while you’re taking these drugs. Your doctor may decrease your dosage to a minimum of 37.5 mg per day.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors

Brand: Sutent

Form: oral capsule
Strengths: 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg
Adult dosage (ages 18 years and older)
  • Typical dosage: 37.5 mg taken once per day. Take this drug for as long as your doctor tells you to.
  • Dosage adjustments: Your doctor may adjust your dosage depending on how your body responds to this drug. Your doctor may temporarily or permanently stop your treatment with this drug if you have severe side effects.
  • Maximum dosage: 62.5 mg taken once per day
Child dosage (ages 0–17 years)

Sunitinib hasn’t been studied in children. It shouldn’t be used in people younger than 18 years.

Special considerations

People who are taking dexamethasone, phenytoin, carbamazepine, rifampin, rifabutin, rifapentin, phenobarbital, or St. John's wort: These drugs may decrease the amount of sunitinib in your body. You may need a higher dosage while you’re taking these medications. Your doctor may increase your dosage up to a maximum of 62.5 mg per day.

People who are taking ketoconazole, itraconazole, clarithromycin, atazanavir, indinavir, nefazodone, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, telithromycin, or voriconazole: These drugs may increase the amount of sunitinib in your body. Your doctor may reduce your dosage to a minimum of 25 mg per day.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

This drug comes with serious risks if you don’t take it as prescribed.

If you stop taking the drug suddenly or don’t take it at all

Your cancer won’t be treated. It could spread to other parts of your body. This may be fatal (cause death).

If you miss doses or don’t take the drug on schedule

Your medication may not work as well or may stop working completely. For this drug to work well, a certain amount needs to be in your body at all times.

f you take too much

You could have dangerous levels of the drug in your body. Symptoms of an overdose of this drug can include:

  • lack of muscle coordination
  • shaking of your head that you can’t control
  • talking or thinking more slowly than usual
  • severe stomach pain or other stomach or intestinal problems

If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor or local poison control center. If your symptoms are severe, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.

What to do if you miss a dose

Take your dose as soon as you remember. Don’t take it if it is almost time for your next dose. Just take the next dose at your regular time. Never try to catch up by taking two doses at once. This could result in dangerous side effects. Tell your doctor about any missed doses.

How to tell if the drug is working

Your cancer may stop spreading. However, you may not be able to tell if the drug is working. Your doctor will do tests to check how well your body is responding to treatment.

This drug is used for long-term treatment.

Important considerations for taking this drug
with or without food
You can take this drug with or without food
timing considerations
Take this drug at the time recommended by your doctor
storage considerations
Store this drug carefully
See Details
prescription is refillable
A prescription for this medication is refillable
See Details
travel considerations
Travel
See Details
self management considerations
Self-management
See Details
clinical monitoring considerations
Clinical monitoring
See Details
not usually stocked
Not every pharmacy stocks this drug. When filling your prescription, be sure to call ahead
prior authorization needed
Insurance
See Details

Store this drug carefully

  • Store this drug at room temperature. Keep it between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C).
  • Don’t store this medication in moist or damp areas, such as bathrooms.
  • Keep this drug out of the reach of children.

A prescription for this medication is refillable

You should not need a new prescription for this medication to be refilled. Your doctor will write the number of refills authorized on your prescription.

Travel

When traveling with your medication:

  • Always carry your medication with you. When flying, never put it into a checked bag. Keep it in your carry-on bag.
  • Don’t worry about airport x-ray machines. They can’t hurt your medication.
  • You may need to show airport staff the pharmacy label for your medication. Always carry the original prescription-labeled box with you.
  • Don’t put this medication in your car’s glove compartment or leave it in the car. Be sure to avoid doing this when the weather is very hot or very cold.

Self-management

Don’t open the capsules. Swallow them whole.

Clinical monitoring

You and your doctor should monitor certain health issues. This can help make sure you stay safe while you take this drug. These issues include:

  • Liver function. Your doctor will do tests to check how well your liver is working before and during your treatment with this drug. If you develop liver problems, your doctor may tell you to stop taking this drug.
  • Heart function. Your doctor will do tests to check how well your heart is working during treatment with this drug.They may do electrocardiograms and blood tests to check for changes in your heart rhythm.
  • Blood pressure. Your doctor may check your blood pressure during your treatment. They may give you medication to lower your blood pressure if needed.
  • Abnormal bleeding. Your doctor will do blood tests to check for signs of abnormal bleeding.
  • Jaw bone problems. If you’re taking medications for osteoporosis, your doctor may check your mouth. They may also tell you to see your dentist before you start taking this drug.
  • Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS). Your doctor may do tests to check the levels of potassium, uric acid, phosphorous, and calcium in your blood. They may also do tests to check how well your kidneys are working. The results of these tests can help your doctor know if you’re developing TLS.
  • Kidney function and protein in your urine. This drug may harm your kidneys and cause protein to spill out into your urine. Your doctor will monitor your kidney function and check for protein in your urine. If there’s too much protein in your urine, they may tell you to stop taking this drug. The results of the kidney function test will also help your doctors know if you’re developing TLS.
  • Serious skin and mouth reactions. This drug can cause serious skin reactions that can be fatal (cause death). Your doctor will check you for signs of a rash or skin reaction.
  • Hormone problems. This drug can cause hormone problems. Your doctor may do tests to check your thyroid and adrenal gland function during treatment with this drug.
  • Blood sugar. Your doctor should check your blood sugar levels often during your treatment. If you take diabetes medications, your doctor may adjust the dosage of these drugs.

Insurance

Many insurance companies require a prior authorization for this drug. This means your doctor may need to get approval from your insurance company before your insurance company will pay for the prescription.

Are there any alternatives?

There are other drugs available to treat your condition. Some may be better suited for you than others. Talk to your doctor about other drug options that may work for you.

What does the pill look like?

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SECTION 5 of 5

How Much Does sunitinib Cost?

Oral capsule

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These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for sunitinib on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

Show Sources

Content developed in collaboration with University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group

Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on March 10, 2016

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.
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