Sunitinib therapy for metastatic renal cell carcinoma: recommendations for management of side effects

Can Urol Assoc J. 2007 Jun;1(2 Suppl):S41-54. doi: 10.5489/cuaj.67.


Sunitinib, a new vascular endothelial growth factor receptor inhibitor, has demonstrated high activity in renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and is now widely used for patients with metastatic disease. Although generally well tolerated and associated with a low incidence of common toxicity criteria grade 3 or 4 toxicities, sunitinib exhibits a distinct pattern of novel side effects that require monitoring and management. This article summarizes the most important side effects and proposes recommendations for their monitoring, prevention and treatment, based on the existing literature and on suggestions made by an expert group of Canadian oncologists. Fatigue, diarrhea, anorexia, oral changes, skin toxicity and hypertension seem to be the most clinically relevant toxicities of sunitinib. Fatigue may be partly related to the development of hypothyroidism during sunitinib therapy for which patients should be observed and, if necessary, treated. Hypertension can be treated with standard antihypertensive therapy and rarely requires treatment discontinuation. Neutropenia and thrombocytopenia usually do not require intervention, in particular no episodes of neutropenic fever have been reported to date. A decrease in left ventricular ejection fraction is a rare, but potentially life-threatening side effect. Because of its metabolism by cytochrome P450 3A4 a number of drugs can potentially interact with sunitinib. Clinical response and toxicity should be carefully observed when sunitinib is combined with either a cytochrome P450 3A4 inducer or inhibitor and doses adjusted as necessary. Knowledge about side effects, as well as the proactive assessment and consistent management of sunitinib-related side effects, is critical to ensure optimal benefit from sunitinib treatment.