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Mekinist (trametinib)

Mekinist® (trametinib) is used to treat certain kinds of advanced melanoma. Mekinist can be used alone or in combination with a drug called Tafinlar® (dabrafenib).1 Mekinist is used to treat melanoma with BRAF V600E or V600K mutation. Your doctor will test for BRAF mutation. Mekinist is not used for melanoma with a normal BRAF gene.

Mekinist is used when the melanoma:1

  • Cannot be removed with surgery (unresectable) or
  • Has spread to distant parts of the body (metastasized)
  • Adjuvant treatment for melanoma with BRAF V600E or V600K mutations and involvement of lymph nodes following a complete resection (in combination with dabrafenib).

Mekinist does not come in generic form. Mekinist is similar to Cotellic® (cobimetinib), another drug that is approved to treat unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

How does Mekinist work?

Mekinist is a type of medication called a kinase inhibitor. It works by blocking a protein called MEK that passes along signals for cell growth.

MEK is a protein in a pathway called MAPK (also called ERK). This pathway involves a chain of events that allow cells to grow and survive. Normally, there are mechanisms that turn each protein “on” and “off,” keeping the cell processes under control. However, between 10% and 50% of melanomas have mutations in the gene (instructions) for a protein called BRAF.2 These mutations cause BRAF to stay “on,” sending continuous signals resulting in uncontrolled cell growth.3

MEK comes after BRAF in this chain of events. Mekinist blocks MEK from working and stops the signal from continuing. Mekinist is called a targeted therapy because it targets one feature that makes cancer cells different from normal cells.

Tafinlar is a BRAF inhibitor. When Tafinlar and Mekinist are used together, they target the MAPK pathway at two points. This combination stops or slows the growth of melanomas with BRAF mutations better than either drug alone.1

How do I take Mekinist?

Before taking Mekinist, read the Medication Guide that comes in the package. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking Mekinist.

Mekinist comes as a tablet that is taken by mouth. Take Mekinist once per day at the same time each day. Take Mekinist at least 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal.

Patients should take their medication as prescribed by their doctor. Patients should talk to their doctor if they have any questions, or if they have questions regarding their trametinib regimen.

You will continue taking Mekinist until the cancer progresses or the side effects are unacceptable.1

What are the side effects of Mekinist?

Taking Mekinist with Tafinlar can cause other cancers.1 This combination has been linked to other types of skin cancer such as squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Possible signs of new cancers include: new wart, skin sore, reddish bump, or mole that changes in size or color.

The most common side effects of Mekinist alone are diarrhea, rash, and swelling in the face, arms, or legs. Additional side effects when Mekinist is used with Tafinlar include:1

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • High blood pressure
  • Rash

Less common but serious side effects of Mekinist include:1

  • Bleeding problems in the brain or stomach
  • Blood clots
  • Heart problems
  • Eye problems
  • Fever
  • Severe skin reaction
  • Increased blood sugar

Mekinist may make it difficult to get pregnant. If this is a concern for you, discuss this with your doctor.

This is not a complete list of adverse effects.

Who should not take Mekinist?

Pregnant people should not take Mekinist.1 People who could become pregnant should use birth control during treatment. Continue using birth control for at least 4 months after the last dose of Mekinist. Do not breastfeed while taking Mekinist. Do not breastfeed for 4 months after your last dose of Mekinist.

Tell your doctor about any medical conditions you have, especially:

  • Bleeding problems
  • Problems with blood clots
  • Heart problems
  • Eye problems
  • Lung or breathing problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver or kidney problems

What precautions are needed when taking Mekinist?

You will need regular skin exams while taking Mekinist with Tafinlar.1 Your doctor will do a skin exam before you start these medications. You will need skin exams every 2 months while taking these medications and for up to 6 months afterward. Your doctor will also look for non-skin cancers.

During treatment and for at least 4 months after the last dose of Mekinist:1

  • People who can become pregnant should use birth control.
  • You should not breastfeed.
  • Discuss birth control options with your doctor.
  • If you can get someone pregnant, be sure to use condoms.
Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: December 2019.
  1. Mekinist® [prescribing information]. East Hanover, NJ: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation; November 2015.
  2. Lovly C, Pao W, Sosman J. 2016. Molecular profiling of melanoma. My Cancer Genome (Updated January 26).
  3. Lo JA, Fisher DE. The melanoma revolution: from UV carcinogenesis to a new era in therapeutics. Science. 2014;346:945-949.