How It Works
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).
Why It Is Used
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.
How Well It Works
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).2
Possible serious side effects of
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
- Nausea and vomiting (rare).
- Feeling of weakness.
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
What To Think About
Erlotinib should be administered
only under the supervision of a
Skin rashes are a frequent problem when taking this medicine. Seeing a dermatologist may help. For best results:1, 2
- Moisturize frequently. Thick emollient creams, such as Aquaphor or Eucerin, work well.
- Avoid alcohol-based lotions, antibacterial soaps, and long hot showers.
- Use sunscreen to protect your skin if you are going to be in the sun for an extended time. Use a sunscreen with 30 SPF that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Choose a sunscreen that contains a physical sunblock, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. A non-alcohol-based sunscreen will be less irritating.
- Avoid acne medicines. Some of these medicines can make the problem worse.
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
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.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
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.
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.
Other Works Consulted