Coronavirus and cancer

We know it’s a worrying time for people with cancer, we have information to help. If you have symptoms of cancer contact your doctor.

Read our information about coronavirus and cancer

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Niraparib (Zejula)

Niraparib is a type of targeted cancer drug called a PARP inhibitor. It is a treatment for some types of ovarian cancer.

How niraparib works

Niraparib is a PARP (Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase) inhibitor. PARP is a protein that helps healthy and non healthy cells repair damaged DNA.

DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. It’s the genetic code that is in the heart of all animal and plant cells. It controls everything the cell does. 

Cancer cells rely on the PARP proteins to keep their DNA healthy to keep on growing and dividing. Niraparib stops the PARP protein from working, so the cancer cells die.

How you have niraparib

You have niraparib as large capsules, measuring around 2 cm long.

You usually have them once a day, at the same time each day. Niraparib can make you feel sick so it might help to take them at bedtime.

You swallow them whole with water. Do not chew or crush them.

You can take them with or without food.

Taking your capsules

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

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

If you miss a dose or vomit after taking niraparib, take your next dose at its scheduled time.

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

When you have niraparib

You have niraparib for as long as it’s working, and the side effects aren’t 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's 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 treatments you're having. For example, your side effects could be worse if you're also having other drugs or radiotherapy.

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist 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. 

Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

Common side effects

Each of these effects happens in more than 10 in 100 people (10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

Increased risk of infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

Breathlessness and looking pale

You might be short of breath and look pale due to a drop in red blood cells. This is called anaemia.

Bruising, bleeding gums or nose bleeds

This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).

Contact your advice line if you experience any of these side effects.

High blood pressure

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have headaches, nose bleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. Your nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

Your doctor may give you medicine to help control it. 

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Tell your doctor or nurse if you think you might have a urinary tract infection. You might find it difficult to pass urine, want to go with some urgency or are going more often. There may be pain or burning when you go. You may see blood in your urine, or your urine might smell bad or look cloudy.

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.

Difficulty sleeping

It can help to change a few things about how you try to sleep. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day and spend some time relaxing before you go to bed. Some light exercise each day may also help. 

Headaches and dizziness

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have headaches. They can give you painkillers. Don’t drive or operate machinery if you feel dizzy.

Taste changes

Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually goes back to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.

Heart problems

These include your blood pressure, heart palpitations (a faster heartbeat) or chest pain. 

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you have headaches, nose bleeds, blurred or double vision, shortness of breath, palpitations or chest pain.

Cough

You may get a cough while you are having treatment. This could be due to inflammation in the tubes of your lungs or infection.

Let your team know if you have a cough.

Runny or blocked nose

You might have a runny or blocked nose while having treatment.

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.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treating it once it has started.

Diarrhoea or constipation

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diarrhoea or constipation. They can give you medicine to help. 

Indigestion or heartburn

Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have indigestion or heartburn. They can prescribe medicines to help.

Back, joint or tummy (abdominal) pain

You may get pain in your back, joints or tummy. Tell your doctor or nurse so they can give you painkillers and advice on what to do to help ease the pain.

Tiredness and weakness

You might feel very tired and as though you lack energy.

Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

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:

  • sore eyes that may get itchy, red, pink, swollen and ooze - tell your team as they might give you eye drops
  • low levels of a substance called potassium in your blood - you have regular blood tests to check this
  • mood changes including anxiety and feeling depressed
  • a swollen or bloated tummy
  • dry or sore mouth and lips - keep your mouth and teeth clean, avoid food and drink that can cause pain or make it more sore
  • skin changes including a rash and increased sensitivity to the sun, take extra care not to burn
  • swelling in your hands, legs, ankles and feet caused by fluid
  • loss of weight
  • changes to how your kidney and liver works – you’ll have regular blood tests to check this

Coping with side effects

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

What else do I need to know?

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.

Lactose intolerance

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

Tartrazine allergy

Tartrazine is a type of yellow food dye. It might also appear as E102. It can be found in many different food types such as fruit squash or cordials, fizzy drinks that are coloured, sauces, ice cream and soups.

If you are allergic let your team know before taking this drug.

Fertility

It is not known 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.

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 a month afterwards. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

It is not known whether this drug comes through into the breast milk. Doctors usually advise that you don’t breastfeed during this treatment. Or for one month after receiving this 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 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)

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can 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 the oral typhoid vaccine.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

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