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Gefitinib (Iressa)

Find out about gefitinib treatment for lung cancer.

Gefitinib is pronounced jeh-fit-ih-nib. It is also known by its brand name Iressa.

How it works

Gefitinib a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which is a type of biological therapy. It works by blocking proteins on cancer cells called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR).

When you might have it for lung cancer

You might have gefitinib if you have non small cell lung cancer and your cancer cells have changes (mutations) in the EGF receptors. Your doctor will check your cancer cells to see if this is the case. Cancers that have these changes are called EGFR positive.

Between 10 and 15 out of every 100 people (10 to 15%) with non small cell lung cancer have EGFR positive cancer.

Doctors use gefitinib to treat non small cell lung cancer that has spread outside of the lung into the surrounding tissue (locally advanced), or to other parts of the body (advanced).

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Medicines Compendium recommend that these people have gefitinib if they have not already had drug treatment (as a first line treatment). The NICE guidance applies to England and Wales.

How you have it

Gefitinib is a tablet. You swallow it whole with a glass of water.

If you have difficulty swallowing tablets, you can dissolve gefitinib in a glass of still water. Don’t use any other type of liquid. Drop the tablet into the water without crushing it. Stir it occasionally for up to 20 minutes until the tablet has broken up into very small particles. Drink it straight away. Fill the glass again with water and drink it to make sure you take the whole dose.

When you have it

You take gefitinib once a day, with or without food. Avoid taking anti acid medicines 2 hours before taking gefitinib and for 1 hour afterwards. 

You usually carry on taking it for as long as it is still working, unless the side effects get too bad.

Taking your tablets or capsules

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

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

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 Zostavax (shingles vaccine).

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, you mustn't change their nappies for 2 weeks after their vaccination.

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

Treatment for other conditions

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

Breastfeeding

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

Pregnancy and contraception

This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 3 months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

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.

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.

Do not take this drug at the same time as antacids and similar drugs. Your doctor or pharmacist will give advice about this.

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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