Find out what erlotinib is, how you have it and other important information about taking erlotinib.
Erlotinib is a cancer treatment drug and is also known by its brand name, Tarceva (pronounced tar-see-vah).
It is a treatment for:
- non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread
- pancreatic cancer that has spread – alongside the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine
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 a tablet. You take it once a day, at least 1 hour before eating, or 2 hours after eating.
Taking your tablets
Speak to your pharmacist if you have problems swallowing the tablets.
Whether you have a full or an empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.
You should take the right dose, no more or less.
Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.
When you have it
You usually carry on taking erlotinib for as long as it is still working.
You have blood tests before 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.
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.
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.
It is unknown whether this treatment affects fertility in people. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.
Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through into your breast milk.
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.
Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.
In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and the shingles vaccine (Zostavax).
- have other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- have the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections
Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as oral polio or the typhoid vaccine.
This also includes the rotavirus vaccine given to babies. The virus is in the baby’s poo for up to 2 weeks and could 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 should also avoid close contact with children who have had the flu vaccine nasal spray if your immune system is severely weakened.
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.