Afatinib is a type of targeted cancer drug. It is also known as Giotrif.
It is a treatment for lung cancer.
You pronounce afatinib as aff-a-tin-ib.
How does afatinib work?
Afatinib is a called a cancer growth blocker. It blocks the signals (messages) of particular proteins that tell a cancer to divide and grow. So this can help slow down or stop the cancer growing.
Your doctor will test your cancer cells to see if you can have this drug.
How do you have afatinib?
You have afatinib as tablets. You swallow them whole on an empty stomach. You take them at least one hour before eating or 3 hours after eating.
You can dissolve afatinib in a glass of still water if you have difficulty swallowing tablets. Don’t use any other type of liquid. Drop the tablet into the water without crushing it. Stir it occasionally for up to 15 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.
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.
Talk to your healthcare team before you stop taking or miss a dose of a cancer drug.
When do you have afatinib?
You take afatinib once a day.
You usually carry on taking afatinib for as long as the treatment is working, and you are not experiencing too many side effects.
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.
What are the side effects of afatinib?
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.
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
We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects, but you might have some of them at the same time.
Common side effects
These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more 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 to replace the fluid lost.
Skin problems include a skin rash, dry skin, acne and itching. This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes. Your nurse will tell you what products you can use on your skin to help.
Mouth sores and ulcers can be painful. It helps to keep your mouth and teeth clean, drink plenty of fluids and avoid acidic foods such as lemons. Chewing gum can help to keep the mouth moist. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ulcers.
Swelling around nails (paronychia)
The skin around your nail might get swollen, red, and sore. It may also become infected. Talk to the team looking after you if you notice this.
Loss of appetite
You might lose your appetite for various reasons while having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
Feeling or being sick
Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. Avoiding fatty or fried foods, try 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 treat it once it has started.
Talk to the team looking after you about this.
Occasional side effects
These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- eye problems such as dry, watery, gritty or itchy eyes
- redness and peeling on the hands and feet
- liver changes - these usually do not cause any symptoms and you have regular blood tests to check this
- soreness and inflammation of the bladder (cystitis)
- kidney changes or kidney failure – you have regular blood tests to check this
- taste changes
- inflammation of the lips
- high temperature (fever)
- weight loss
- runny nose
- muscle cramps
- nail changes
- low potassium levels in the blood
- loss of body fluid (dehydration)
Rare side effects
This side effects happens in fewer than 1 in 100 people (fewer than 1%). You might have one or more of them. They include:
- inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue – let your team know if you develop shortness of breath, cough or high temperature
- inflammation of the pancreas - symptoms include severe tummy pain, feeling or being sick, a high temperature or you may have loose poo
- inflammation of the clear front layer of the eye (cornea) – symptoms might include pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, and redness
- a hole in the bowel wall (perforation)
- a severe skin reaction that may start as tender red patches which leads to peeling or blistering of the skin. You might also feel feverish and your eyes may be more sensitive to light. This is serious and could be life threatening
Coping with side effects
We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.
What else do you need to know?
Other medicines, foods and drink
Cancer drugs can interact with medicines, herbal products, and some food and drinks. We are unable to list all the possible interactions that may happen. An example is grapefruit or grapefruit juice which can increase the side effects of certain drugs.
Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Also let them know about any other medical conditions or allergies you may have.
Loss of 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 get someone pregnant 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. Let them know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant while having treatment.
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. For example, 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 one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.
You can have:
- other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
- the flu vaccine (as an injection)
- the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment
Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your
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. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.
If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. 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 and possible side effects go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website. You can find the patient information leaflet on this website.
You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.