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Erlotinib (Tarceva)

Read about erlotinib, how you have it and other important information about taking erlotinib.

Erlotinib is also known by its brand name, Tarceva (pronounced tar-see-vah). It is a treatment for:

  • pancreatic cancer that has spread – alongside the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine
  • non small cell lung cancer that has spread

How it works

Erlotinib is a type of cancer treatment drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). It works by blocking particular proteins on cancer cells that encourage the cancer to grow.

Erlotinib blocks proteins called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR). Cancers that have these receptors are called EGFR positive. For lung cancer, doctors check your cancer cells to see if they have the receptors before you have this treatment.

Erlotinib may shrink the cancer or stop it growing for a time.

How you have it

Erlotinib is taken as a tablet.

When you have it

Erlotinib is a tablet. You take it once a day, at least 1 hour before eating, or 2 hours after eating.

You usually carry on taking it for as long as it is still working.

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

Tests during treatment

You have blood tests before starting treatment and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

Side effects

Important information

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Some drugs or therapies can reduce how well erlotinib works. Some drugs may increase the harmful effects of the drug, including antibiotics and anti fungal medicines. 

Avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice because they can increase the side effects. 

Stopping smoking

Try not to smoke during treatment as it can lower the amount of this drug in your blood.

Pregnancy and contraception

This drug may harm a baby developing in your womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 2 weeks afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.

Fertility

We don’t know how this treatment might affect fertility. You may not be able to become pregnant or father a child after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Some men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Some women might be able to store eggs or embryos before treatment.

Treatment for other conditions

Always tell other doctors, nurses, pharmacists or dentists that you’re having this treatment if you need treatment for anything else, including teeth problems.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for at least 6 months afterwards.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and shingles vaccine (Zostavax).

You can:

  • have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • have the flu vaccine
  • be in contact with other people who've had live vaccines as injections

Avoid contact with people who’ve had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines). This includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s urine for up to 2 weeks and can make you ill. So, avoid changing their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination if possible. Or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.

You also need to avoid anyone who has had oral polio or typhoid vaccination recently.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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