Erlotinib (Generic Name)

Other Names: Tarceva®

About this drug

Erlotinib is used to treat cancer. It is given by mouth.

Possible side effects (Common)

  • Diarrhea
  • Rash, itchy skin, or dry skin
  • Breathing problems, cough, or a worsening of your shortness of breath or cough. This may be due to a rare side effect called interstitial lung disease.
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sore mouth and throat
  • Eye irritation
  • Abdominal pain

Sexual Problems and Reproductive Concerns

  • In men and women both, this drug may temporarily or permanently affect your ability to have children. This cannot be determined before your therapy. In men, this drug may interfere with your ability to make sperm, but it should not change your ability to have sexual relations. In women, menstrual bleeding may become irregular or stop while you are receiving this drug. Do not assume that you cannot become pregnant if you do not have a menstrual period. Women may experience signs of menopause like vaginal dryness or itching.
    • Pregnancy warning: This drug may have harmful effects on the unborn child, so effective methods of birth control should be used during your cancer treatment.
    • Speak with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children.  Ask for information on sperm or egg banking. 
    •  Genetic counseling is available to you to discuss the effects of this drug therapy on future pregnancies. In addition, a genetic counselor can review the potential risks of problems in the fetus due to this medication if an exposure during pregnancy has occurred. 
    • Breast feeding warning: Women are advised not to breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and seriously harm a breast feeding infant.

Treating side effects

  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine to help prevent or lessen diarrhea, rash, itchy or dry skin, nausea, vomiting, eye irritation, and abdominal pain.
  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids every day unless your doctor has told you to restrict your fluid intake due to another medical condition. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you vomit or have diarrhea, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
  • Do not put anything on your rash unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean.
  • Mouth care is very important. You should brush your teeth with a very soft tooth brush.
    Rinse your mouth with a mixture of ½ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water or ½ teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in 8 ounces of water. This should be done at least after very meal and at bedtime.
  • Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Avoid alcohol and smoking because they can irritate your mouth and throat.

Food and drug interactions

Take this drug 1 hour before or 2 hours after you eat food. There are no known interactions of this drug with food. Erlotinib may interact with other medicines. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, and others) that you are currently taking. The safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements and alternative diets are often unknown. Using these might unexpectedly affect your cancer or interfere with your treatment. Until more is known, you should not use dietary supplements or alternative diets without your cancer doctor’s advice.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • New onset of shortness of breath or cough, or worsening shortness of breath or cough
  • Temperature of 100.5 F (38 C) or above
  • Chills
  • Eye irritation
  • Diarrhea of 5 or 6 stools in 1 day, or diarrhea with weakness
  • Uuncontrolled nausea that keeps you from eating or drinking
  • Vomiting more than 3 times in 1 day

 

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, rash, or itchy skin that does not go away with prescribed medicine
  • Painful mouth or throat or you are unable to eat or drink
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness that interfere with daily activities

Revised November 2011

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