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Erlotinib


Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
erlotinibTarceva

How It Works

Erlotinib blocks a substance called the epidermal growth factor that helps some cancer cells grow and reproduce. Erlotinib is a medicine that is taken by mouth (oral).

Why It Is Used

Erlotinib slows or stops the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body. It is used to treat cancers such as pancreatic cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. This medicine may be used with chemotherapy or if a person's cancer has not responded to chemotherapy.

How Well It Works

Erlotinib is an effective antitumor medicine. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this medicine slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body. Erlotinib works best in people who have changes (mutations) in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Callor other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Skin problems, including rash and infections.
  • Eye pain or irritation.
  • Severe or ongoing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

In rare cases, erlotinib can cause a serious lung problem called interstitial lung disease. Immediately report any shortness of breath or cough to your oncologist.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea and vomiting (rare).
  • Feeling of weakness.

If a blood thinner (anticoagulant) such as Coumadin is also being taken, blood clotting tests should be watched closely to be sure there is not an increased risk of serious bleeding.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Erlotinib should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.

You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Talk with your doctor about fertility before starting treatment.

Medicines can be used to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting side effects of chemotherapy.

Skin rashes are a common problem when taking this medicine. Try using a moisturizer several times a day. Seeing a dermatologist may help.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)Click here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Burtness B, et al. (2009). NCCN Task Force Report: Management of dermatologic and other toxicities associated with EGFR inhibition in patients with cancer. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, 7(Suppl 1): S5–S24.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMichael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Last RevisedSeptember 12, 2012

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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