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Erlotinib blocks a substance called the epidermal growth factor that helps some cancer cells grow and reproduce. Erlotinib is a medicine that is taken by mouth (oral).
Erlotinib slows or stops the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body. It is used to treat non–small cell lung cancer that has spread (metastasized) outside the lung. It is used after a person's cancer has not responded to the chemotherapy medicines that are tried first for non–small cell lung cancer.
Erlotinib is an effective antitumor medicine. But the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this medicine slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body. Erlotinib works best in people who have changes (mutations) in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).1
Possible serious side effects of erlotinib include:
In rare cases, erlotinib can cause a serious lung problem called interstitial lung disease. Immediately report any shortness of breath or cough to your oncologist.
Less serious side effects may include:
If a blood thinner (anticoagulant) such as Coumadin is also being taken, blood clotting tests should be watched closely to be sure there is not an increased risk of serious bleeding.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
Erlotinib should be administered only under the supervision of a medical oncologist.
Erlotinib can affect your ability to have children. You may not be able to get pregnant or father a child after taking this medicine. Discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.
Erlotinib can cause birth defects. Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or to father a child while you are taking it.
Medicines can be used to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting side effects of chemotherapy.
- Burtness B, et al. (2009). NCCN Task Force Report: Management of dermatologic and other toxicities associated with EGFR inhibition in patients with cancer. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, (7, Suppl 1): S5–S24.
- National Cancer Institute (2010). New cancer drugs bring new side effects, and nurses respond. NCI Cancer Bulletin, 7(1). Also available online: http://www.cancer.gov/ncicancerbulletin/011210/page7.
Other Works Consulted
- Erlotinib (Tarceva) for advanced non–small cell lung cancer (2005). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 47(1205): 25–27.
Last Revised: May 27, 2010
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