About MabThera

Advances in cancer treatment have seen the development of medicines known as targeted or biological therapies which can help to slow the growth of cancer cells.

MabThera is a targeted therapy which has been used in the treatment of people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. MabThera is registered for use in New Zealand for people with follicular lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. MabThera is publicly funded for certain types of blood cancer.

It is sometimes used in people with follicular lymphoma as consolidation (or maintenance) therapy after they have had a successful initial course of MabThera and chemotherapy. MabThera used as a maintenance therapy is not publicly funded in New Zealand, which means you have to pay for it.

You can find out more about MabThera on these pages. MabThera is not suitable for everyone, so it’s important that you speak with your doctor about whether this medication may be right for you.

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Everything You Need to Know About MabThera

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How Does MabThera Work?

MabThera (also known as rituximab) is used to treat people with certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. For more information about MabThera in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, click here.

MabThera works by targeting a marker found on certain white blood cells. It attaches to this marker and this helps to stop the abnormal growth of these white blood cells. At the same time it encourages your body’s immune system to attack them.

It is sometimes used in people with follicular lymphoma as an initial treatment in combination with chemotherapy. If the initial treatment with MabThera and chemotherapy was successful and the person is in remission, MabThera can be used alone with the aim of ensuring the remission lasts as long as possible. This is termed maintenance therapy.

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How Can MabThera Help Me?

Most people who successfully complete initial treatment (MabThera plus chemotherapy) do eventually have a relapse and need further treatment. An important aim of treatment is to make the remission last as long as possible.

Studies have looked at the effectiveness of MabThera used alone as a maintenance therapy in people with follicular lymphoma who had a successful outcome with initial treatment. These studies have shown that patients who have MabThera maintenance therapy can increase the time they are free from their disease (remission). Results from these studies showed:1,2

  • People who received MabThera maintenance treatment lived in remission at least two years longer than patients who did not receive MabThera maintenance therapy.
  • Six out of ten people who had MabThera maintenance treatment were still in remission six years after their initial induction treatment (MabThera plus chemotherapy) compared with 4.4 out of 10 people who did not receive MabThera maintenance therapy.

The results will not be the same for everyone. You will need to speak to your doctor about whether MabThera is right for you.

How is MabThera Given?

MabThera is given as an infusion into the vein. This means it goes directly through a needle in your arm. The infusion generally takes between three to six hours. It’s usually given every two or three months and usually takes place in the cancer department at a hospital or private treatment clinic.

Before the infusion, medicines will be given to help reduce side-effects during the infusion.

People can remain on a MabThera maintenance treatment for up to two years.

Side-Effects of MabThera

MabThera is an effective treatment for patients with follicular lymphoma but it may have some unwanted side-effects in some people.

All medicines can have side-effects. Sometimes they are serious, most of the time they are not. You may need medical treatment if you get some of the side-effects. Ask your medical team to answer any questions you may have.

Your medical team is in the best position to help you manage any side-effects so be open with them about any symptoms you notice, whether or not you think they are caused by the medicine.

If you want to find out more about MabThera-related side effects, please look at the MabThera Consumer Medicines Information. In the Consumer Medicines Information, look at:

Before you are given MabThera, While you are receiving MabThera, and Side Effects sections.

How do I get MabThera as a Maintenance Treatment?

MabThera is not publicly funded for a maintenance treatment for people with follicular lymphoma which means you will have to pay for this medication. This is a big decision and will obviously have an impact on you and your loved ones.

You may want to make this decision with your friends and family and you may also want to explore other funding options, such as health insurance or fundraising programmes.

The exact cost of a course of MabThera will depend on a number of factors, including the dose you require and the number of infusions you receive. A private specialist will need to advise you on this. But a two-year course of MabThera could cost between $29,000 and $44,000 plus GST*. This cost is without the cost share programme.

If you have MabThera at a private treatment centre, you may also need to pay for your specialist care and infusion costs.

The cost of MabThera may play a big part in whether or not you decide to have this treatment. Be sure to discuss all the pros and cons with your doctor.

*As at 1 February 2016

Roche’s Cost Share Programme for MabThera

Roche has a cost share programme to help with the cost of MabThera for those who need it. Find out more.

Talking to Your Doctor About Whether MabThera is Right for You

Deciding whether to pay for treatment is a big decision and it’s one that requires careful thought.

MabThera is not a cure, but it may give you more time before your cancer grows and spreads. For many people, MabThera may be able to offer a few extra months and for others it may be able to offer more.

Speak with your doctor about your specific case and the pros and cons of taking MabThera. It will not be right for everyone and your doctor will need to ask you a number of questions to see if it’s suitable for you.

If you’re not sure how to have this discussion with your doctor, we’ve developed a list of common questions which might help you. Printable list of common questions

If you’re considering MabThera and you want to want to know more about private providers, you can check out a list here.

Sources of Further Information

If you’d like more information about MabThera, you can look at the following:

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Helpful questions
to ask your doctor
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MabThera Patient
Information Book
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Medsafe NZ Consumer
Information for MabThera