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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Erlotinib (Tarceva®)


Brand Name: Tarceva®

Erlotinib is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Erlotinib is a type of biologic drug, also known as targeted therapy. More specifically, this drug belongs to a class of medications known as kinase inhibitors. Erlotinib works by blocking the action of an abnormal protein that causes cancer cells to multiply in an uncontrolled way. Blocking this protein can help slow or stop the spread of cancer cells.

A tablet, erlotinib is taken by mouth and is usually taken on an empty stomach once daily, about 1–2 hours after a meal or snack. It should be taken at around the same time each day. The dose of erlotinib may be adjusted during your treatment depending on how well the medicine is working and how well your body is tolerating the drug. Be sure to speak with your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing and how you are feeling. Continue to take your medication even if you feel well, and don’t stop without consulting with your doctor.

Erlotinib side effects

To prevent problematic interactions between erlotinib and other drugs, be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medications, and what other medications and supplements you are currently taking. You should also inform your doctor if you have or ever had a liver tumor, liver disease, or kidney disease, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding.

If you are taking antacids, be sure to take them several hours before or after you take erlotinib. Tell your doctor if you smoke, because cigarette smoking may decrease the effectiveness of erlotinib.

It’s also best to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight, because such exposure could increase the risk of developing a rash during treatment. The risk of rash can also be minimized by using only very mild, alcohol-free products on your face and body.

Possible side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Mouth sores
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Headache
  • Bone or muscle pain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in the appearance of hair, nails, and skin (discoloration)

Some of erlotinib’s side effects can be serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Acne-like rash on the face, upper chest, or back
  • Blistering, peeling, dry or cracked skin
  • Itchy, tender, or burning skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat, fever, chills or other signs of infection
  • Blurry vision
  • Growth of eyelashes on inside of eyelid
  • Dry, red, painful or irritated eyes
  • Slow or difficult speech
  • Black, tarry, or bloody stools
  • Sunken eyes
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Redness, warmth, pain, tenderness or swelling in one leg
  • Rapid, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pain or pressure

Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. Patients may experience additional effects not mentioned above.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), your team of cancer experts will explain each of the side effects of erlotinib with you in detail, as well as the side effects and expectations of all other medications planned as part of your individualized treatment plan.

Erlotinib for cancer treatment

Erlotinib is approved by the FDA for the following cancer treatments:

  • Maintenance treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or other parts of the body and that has not worsened after four cycles of platinum-based first-line chemotherapy
  • Treatment of non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or other parts of the body in patients whose disease has not improved after treatment with at least one other chemotherapy medication
  • In combination with gemcitabine for the treatment of pancreatic cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or other parts of the body

At CTCA, our integrative approach to cancer treatment works to fight your disease on all fronts and ensures that you remain at the center of everything we do. We encourage participation from both you and your family to make certain you are comfortable with all decisions made regarding your treatment.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Cancer Treatment Centers of America assumes no responsibility for how this material is used. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. Also note that while Cancer Treatment Centers of America frequently updates its contents, medical information changes rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.