Niraparib is a type of targeted cancer drug called a PARP inhibitor. It is also known as Zejula.
It is a treatment for some types of ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancers.
You pronounce niraparib as nir-rap-ar-ib.
How does niraparib work?
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 do you take niraparib?
Niraparib is a capsule.
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 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.
How often do you take niraparib?
You have niraparib for as long as it’s working, and the side effects aren’t too bad.
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 niraparib?
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.
When to contact your team
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you 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.
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:
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, nosebleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. You have your blood pressure checked 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 while having cancer treatment. Sickness, taste changes or tiredness can put you off food and drinks.
If you have 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 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 returns to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.
These include your blood pressure, heart palpitations (a faster heartbeat) or chest pain.
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, 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.
Diarrhoea or constipation
Tell your healthcare team 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
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:
- 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
- an allergic reaction that can cause a rash, shortness of breath, redness or swelling of the face and dizziness - some allergic reactions can be life threatening, alert your nurse or doctor if notice any of these symptoms
- memory problems
- taste changes
- nose bleed
- aching or painful muscles
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.
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 become pregnant while having treatment.
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. 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.