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Gefitinib (Iressa)

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

Gefitinib is a treatment for non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread into the surrounding tissues (locally advanced) or to other parts of the body.

Gefitinib is also used in clinical trials for other cancer types.

How it works

Gefitinib is a type of targeted cancer drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). Tyrosine kinase is a protein that sends signals telling cancer cells to grow. Gefitinib bocks these signals. 

For gefitinib to work the cancer cells need to have receptors for a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGFR). Your doctor will test the cancer cells for this. 

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 half  a glass of still water. Don’t use any other type of liquid.

Drop the tablet into the half glass of 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 to half way again with water and drink it to make sure you take the whole dose.

Taking your tablets

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

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

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

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.

Tests

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.

Side effects

We haven't listed all the side effects. It is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.

How often and how severe the side effects are can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatment you are having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you are also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor or nurse will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you closely during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 
  • your side effects aren’t getting any better
  • your side effects are getting worse
Early treatment can help manage side effects better.

Common side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 10 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Skin changes

Skin problems include a skin rash, dry skin and itching. This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, that is 4 loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid, or if it carries on for more than 3 days. Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty of liquid to replace the fluid lost.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, eating small meals and snacks, drinking plenty of water, and relaxation techniques, can all help.

Sore mouth and ulcers

Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. Keep your mouth and teeth clean; drink plenty of fluids; avoid acidic foods such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits; chew gum to keep the mouth moist and tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.

Loss of appetite

You might lose your appetite for various reasons when you are having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.

Liver changes

You might have liver changes that are usually mild and unlikely to cause symptoms. They usually go back to normal when treatment finishes. You have regular blood tests to check for any changes in the levels of chemicals produced by the liver.

Lack of energy and strength

This is usually mild. You can do things to help yourself, including some gentle exercise. It’s important not to push yourself too hard and eat a well balanced diet.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if this effect is stopping you from doing your usual daily activities.

Occasional side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • an increased risk of bleeding such as a nose bleed or blood in the urine
  • dry, brittle or loose nails during treatment
  • inflammation of the bladder causing pain when passing urine and need to pass urine often
  • kidney problems that don't usually cause any symptoms
  • high temperature - fever
  • eye problems such as red, itchy, sore dry eyes or blurred vision
  • sore, red eyelids or ingrown eyelashes
  • thinning of your hair
  • lung problems
  • not enough water in your body (dehydration) caused by diarrhoea, being sick or loss of appetite
  • an allergic reaction causing itching, rash or swelling tell your doctor if this happens

Rare side effects

Each of these effects happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • inflammation of the pancreas
  • a hole in the stomach or bowel
  • inflammation of the liver
  • eye problems

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else I need to know

Other medicines, food 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.

Lactose intolerance

This drug contains lactose (milk sugar). If you have intolerance to lactose, contact your doctor before taking this medicine.

Breastfeeding

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

Pregnancy and contraception

This treatment might harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or father a child while you're having treatment and for a few months afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Loss of 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. Men may be able to store sperm before starting treatment. Women may be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue but this is rare.

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.

Immunisatins

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).

You can:

  • 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.

Information and help

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