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Generic Name:

erlotinib, Oral tablet

All Brands

  • Tarceva
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for erlotinib

Oral tablet
1

Erlotinib is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or pancreatic cancer.

2

This drug comes in the form of a tablet you take by mouth.

3

Erlotinib is available as a brand-name drug called Tarceva. It’s not available as a generic drug.

4

The more common side effects of this drug can include rash, tiredness, shortness of breath, or cough. They can also include loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.

5

In some cases, erlotinib can cause serious side effects. These can include lung disease, kidney failure, liver problems, tears in the stomach or intestines, skin problems, or eye problems.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

Interstitial lung disease (ILD)

This drug can cause ILD, which can sometimes be fatal (cause death). Call your doctor right away if you have any problems such as shortness of breath, cough, or fever while taking this drug.

Kidney problems

This drug may cause severe kidney problems. These include kidney failure, which can be fatal (cause death). Your doctor will monitor your kidney function while you take this drug.

Liver problems

This drug may cause severe liver problems. These include liver failure, which can be fatal (cause death). Your doctor will monitor your liver function while you take this drug.

Skin problems

This drug can cause serious skin conditions called Stevens-Johnson syndrome or toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). In some cases, these conditions can be fatal (cause death). Call your doctor right away if you develop a rash, fluid-filled blisters, or peeling skin while taking this drug.

What is erlotinib?

Erlotinib is a prescription drug. It comes in the form of a tablet you take by mouth.

Erlotinib is available as the brand-name drug Tarceva. It’s not available as a generic drug.

If you’re using this drug to treat pancreatic cancer, you’ll use this drug as part of a combination therapy. This means you need to take it with another drug called gemcitabine.

If you’re using this drug to treat non-small cell lung cancer, you will not use it with other medications to treat your condition.

Why it's used

Erlotinib is used to treat two types of cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and pancreatic cancer.

More Details

How it works

This drug belongs to a class of drugs called epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.

More Details

Why it's used

Erlotinib is used to treat two types of cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and pancreatic cancer.

  • NSCLC: This drug can be used to treat NSCLC in three ways:
    • First-line treatment. This treatment is used when:
      • the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
      • the cancer has certain types of mutations in its epidermal growth factor receptor
    • Maintenance therapy. This treatment is used for cancer that has grown or spread to other parts of the body, but has not progressed further after treatment with certain types of chemotherapy.
    • Second- or third-line treatment. This treatment is used for cancer that has grown or spread to other parts of the body after at least one round of chemotherapy hasn’t worked.
  • Pancreatic cancer: This drug is also used to treat advanced-stage pancreatic cancer. It’s used when the cancer:
    • has grown or spread
    • cannot be removed by surgery
    • has not been treated before with chemotherapy

How it works

This drug belongs to a class of drugs called epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.

How erlotinib works to treat cancer is not fully known. This drug may slow or block the activity of a type of cell called an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Cancer cells need EGFRs to grow and divide. Blocking EGFRs may cause cancer cells to die. It also affects healthy cells.

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SECTION 2 of 5

erlotinib Side Effects

Oral tablet

More Common Side Effects

The more common side effects of erlotinib can include:

  • rash

  • diarrhea

  • loss of appetite

  • tiredness

  • shortness of breath

  • cough

  • nausea

  • vomiting

If these effects are mild, they may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious Side Effects

Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 9-1-1 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency. Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD). Symptoms can include:

    • cough
    • shortness of breath
    • fever
  • Kidney failure. Symptoms can include:

    • decreased urination
    • swollen legs, ankles, or feet
    • shortness of breath
    • drowsiness
    • nausea
    • confusion
    • seizures
    • coma
    • chest pressure or pain
  • Liver problems. Symptoms can include:

    • jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes)
    • swollen abdomen (stomach area)
    • pain in your right upper abdomen
    • vomiting
    • nausea
    • sleepiness
    • confusion
    • general sense of feeling unwell
  • Perforation (tear or hole) in your stomach or intestines. Symptoms can include:

    • severe pain in your abdomen (stomach area)
    • chills
    • fever
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • exhaustion
    • passing less urine, stools, or gas
    • fast heartbeat
    • shortness of breath
  • Skin problems. Symptoms can include:

    • redness, scales, or peeling
    • blisters that may be filled with fluid
  • Eye problems. Symptoms can include:

    • dry eyes
    • increased eyelash growth
    • gritty sensation in your eyes
    • itchy eyes
    • watery eyes
    • pus or other discharge from your eyes
    • swollen eyelids
    • sore eyes
    • sensitivity to light
  • Heart attack. Symptoms can include:

    • chest pain or discomfort
    • upper body pain that may spread to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth, or jaw
    • heartburn or pain in the abdomen (stomach area)
    • shortness of breath
    • anxiety
    • nausea and vomiting
  • Stroke. Symptoms can include:

    • trouble speaking or understanding other people speak
    • weakness, numbness, or paralysis of your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
    • trouble seeing or walking
    • headache
  • Microangiopathic hemolytic anemia. Symptoms can include:

    • shortness of breath
    • tiredness
    • dark urine
    • back pain
    • pale or yellow-colored skin
    • rapid heartbeat
Pharmacist's Advice
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy

This drug doesn’t cause drowsiness.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

erlotinib May Interact with Other Medications

Oral tablet

Erlotinib can interact with other medications, vitamins, or herbs you may be taking. An interaction is when a substance changes the way a drug works. This can be harmful or prevent the drug from working well.

To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. To find out how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Food interactions

Don’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice if you’re taking erlotinib. Grapefruit can increase the amount of erlotinib in your body and increase your risk of side effects.

Medications that might interact with this drug

Drugs you should not use with erlotinib

Do not take these drugs with erlotinib. Doing so can cause dangerous effects in the body. Examples of these drugs include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors, such as esomeprazole, omeprazole, or pantoprazole.
    • Using these drugs with erlotinib can make erlotinib less effective. This means it won’t work as well to treat your condition. This is because the amount of erlotinib in your body may be decreased.

Interactions that increase your risk of side effects
  • Increased side effects from other drugs: Taking erlotinib with certain medications raises your risk of side effects from those drugs. Examples of these drugs include:
    • Warfarin.
      • Increased side effects of warfarin can include bleeding. Symptoms may include dark red or brown urine, nosebleeds, tar-colored stool, or more bruising than normal. Symptoms may also include bleeding from the gums, excessive menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds. Your doctor will monitor your bleeding if you take warfarin. They may need to adjust your dosage of warfarin depending on the results of a blood test.
    • Certain cancer drugs such as imatinib, nilotinib, or crizotinib.
      • Taking these drugs with erlotinib raises your risk of perforation (a tear or hole) in your stomach or intestines. Symptoms can include severe pain in your abdomen (stomach area), chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, or exhaustion. Symptoms can also include passing less urine, stools, or gas, a fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath. Your doctor will monitor you for these symptoms.
    • Pain drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or meloxicam.
      • Taking these drugs with erlotinib raises your risk of perforation (a tear or hole) in your stomach or intestines. Symptoms can include severe pain in your abdomen (stomach area), chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, or exhaustion. Symptoms can also include passing less urine, stools, or gas, a fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath. Your doctor will monitor you for these symptoms.
  • Increased side effects from erlotinib: Taking erlotinib with certain medications raises your risk of side effects from erlotinib. This is because the amount of erlotinib in your body may be increased. Examples of these drugs include:
    • Antiviral drugs such as atazanavir, indinavir, nelfinavir, ritonavir, or saquinavir.
      • Increased side effects can include kidney problems, liver problems, long-lasting and severe diarrhea, severe rash, or eye problems. Avoid using these drugs with erlotinib if possible. If your doctor decides to use these drugs together, your doctor may decrease your dosage of erlotinib.
    • Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, clarithromycin, or telithromycin.
      • Increased side effects can include kidney problems, liver problems, long-lasting and severe diarrhea, severe rash, or eye problems. Avoid using these drugs with erlotinib if possible. If your doctor decides to use these drugs together, your doctor may decrease your dosage of erlotinib.
    • Antifungal drugs such as itraconazole, ketoconazole, or voriconazole.
      • Increased side effects can include kidney problems, liver problems, long-lasting and severe diarrhea, severe rash, or eye problems. Avoid using these drugs with erlotinib if possible. If your doctor decides to use these drugs together, your doctor may decrease your dosage of erlotinib.
    • Nefazodone, an antidepressant.
      • Increased side effects can include kidney problems, liver problems, long-lasting and severe diarrhea, severe rash, or eye problems. Avoid using this drug with erlotinib if possible. If your doctor decides to use these drugs together, your doctor may decrease your dosage of erlotinib.

Drugs that can make erlotinib less effective

When used with erlotinib, these drugs can make erlotinib less effective. This means it won’t work as well to treat your condition. This is because the amount of erlotinib in your body may be decreased. Examples of these drugs include:

  • Drugs such as ranitidine and antacids.
    • Your doctor may suggest taking these drugs at a different time from when you take erlotinib.
  • Drugs such as rifampin, rifabutin, rifapentine, phenytoin, carbamazepine, phenobarbital, or St. John’s wort.
    • Avoid using these drugs if possible. If your doctor decides to use these drugs with erlotinib, your doctor may decrease your dosage of erlotinib.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.
Drug warnings
stomach ulcers
People with history of stomach ulcers or intestinal problems

This drug raises your risk of perforation (a tear or hole) in your stomach or intestines. Your doctor will monitor for symptoms of a gastrointestinal (GI) perforation and may stop or delay your treatment. Symptoms of a GI perforation include fever, vomiting, or severe pain in your abdomen (stomach area).

liver problems
People with liver problems

This drug raises your risk of liver damage. Liver damage can result in liver failure or even death. It also raises your risk of kidney problems, including severe kidney damage or kidney failure. Your doctor will monitor your liver and may stop or delay treatment if your liver is too damaged.

kidney problems
People with kidney problems

This drug raises your risk of kidney damage. Kidney damage can result in kidney failure or even death. Symptoms of kidney failure include weight gain and decreased urine output. Your doctor will monitor your kidney function. They will make sure that you’re properly hydrated and can urinate well. Your doctor may stop or delay your treatment if your kidneys aren’t working well.

pregnant women
Pregnant women

This drug is a category D pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in humans has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. This drug should only be used during pregnancy in serious cases where it's needed to treat a dangerous condition in the mother.

It’s important to use effective contraception during your treatment and for at least 2 weeks after your last dose of this drug. Talk with your doctor if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Ask your doctor about the specific harm this drug may do to the fetus. This drug should be only used if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.

breast-feeding
Women who are breast-feeding

This drug may pass into breast milk and may cause side effects in a child who is breastfed.

Talk to your doctor if you breastfeed your child. You may need to decide whether to stop breastfeeding or stop taking this medication.

for seniors
For seniors

The kidneys of older adults may not work as well as they used to. This can cause your body to process drugs more slowly. As a result, more of a drug stays in your body for a longer time. This raises your risk of side effects.

for children
For children

This medication has not been established as safe and effective for children. It should not be used in people younger than 21 years.

call doctor
When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • You become pregnant while taking this drug.
  • You stop or start smoking cigarettes or using other kinds of tobacco products while taking this drug.
allergies
Allergies

This drug can cause a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms can include:

  • trouble breathing
  • swelling of your throat or tongue

If you have an allergic reaction, call your doctor or local poison control center right away. If your symptoms are severe, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Don’t take this drug again if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to it. Taking it again could be fatal (cause death).

SECTION 4 of 5

How to Take erlotinib (Dosage)

Oral tablet

All possible dosages and drug forms may not be included here. Your dosage, drug form, and how often you take the drug will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What are you taking this medication for?

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Brand: Tarceva

Form: Oral tablet
Strengths: 25 mg, 100 mg, 150 mg
Adult dosage (ages 21 years and over)
  • Typical dosage: 150 mg per day
Child dosage (ages 0–20 years)

This medication has not been established as safe and effective for children. It should not be used in people younger than 21 years.

Senior dosage (ages 65 years and older)

The kidneys of older adults may not work as well as they used to. This can cause your body to process drugs more slowly. As a result, more of a drug stays in your body for a longer time. This raises your risk of side effects.

Your doctor may start you on a lowered dose or a different dosing schedule. This can help keep levels of this drug from building up too much in your body.

Pancreatic cancer

Brand: Tarceva

Form: Oral tablet
Strengths: 25 mg, 100 mg, 150 mg
Adult dosage (ages 21 years and over)
  • Typical dosage: 100 mg per day, taken with gemcitabine
Child dosage (ages 0–20 years)

This medication has not been established as safe and effective for children. It should not be used in people younger than 21 years.

Senior dosage (ages 65 years and older)

The kidneys of older adults may not work as well as they used to. This can cause your body to process drugs more slowly. As a result, more of a drug stays in your body for a longer time. This raises your risk of side effects.

Your doctor may start you on a lowered dose or a different dosing schedule. This can help keep levels of this drug from building up too much in your body.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy

This drug comes with serious risks if you don’t take it as prescribed.

If you stop taking the drug suddenly or don’t take it at all

Your cancer won’t be treated and it may get worse.

If you miss doses or don’t take the drug on schedule

Your medication may not work as well or may stop working completely. For this drug to work well, a certain amount needs to be in your body at all times.

If you take too much

You could have dangerous levels of the drug in your body. Symptoms of an overdose of this drug can include:

  • diarrhea
  • rash
  • high liver enzymes (shown with a blood test done by your doctor. It can be a sign of liver damage.)

If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor or local poison control center. If your symptoms are severe, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room right away. 

What to do if you miss a dose

Take your dose as soon as you remember. But if you remember just a few hours before your next scheduled dose, take only one dose. Never try to catch up by taking two doses at once. This could result in dangerous side effects.

How to tell if the drug is working

You may not feel any different if this drug is working. Your doctor may do tests to see if the drug is working to treat your cancer.

This drug is used for long-term treatment.

Important considerations for taking this drug
do not take with food
Take this drug without food
timing
Take this drug at least one hour before eating or two hours after eating
can crush or cut
You can cut or crush the tablet
storage
Store this drug carefully
See Details
refillable
A prescription for this medication is refillable
See Details
travel
Travel
See Details
self-management
Self-management
See Details
clinical monitoring
Clinical monitoring
See Details
sun sensitivity
Sun sensitivity
See Details
not usually stocked
Not every pharmacy stocks this drug. When filling your prescription, be sure to call ahead.
hidden costs
Hidden costs
See Details
prior authorization
Insurance
See Details

Store this drug carefully

  • Store at room temperature between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C).
  • Don’t store this medication in moist or damp areas, such as bathrooms.

A prescription for this medication is refillable

You should not need a new prescription for this medication to be refilled. Your doctor will write the number of refills authorized on your prescription.

Travel

  • Always carry your medication with you. When flying, never put it into a checked bag. Keep it in your carry-on bag.
  • Don’t worry about airport x-ray machines. They can’t hurt your medication.
  • You may need to show airport staff the pharmacy label for your medication. Always carry the original prescription-labeled box with you.
  • Don’t put this medication in your car’s glove compartment or leave it in the car. Be sure to avoid doing this when the weather is very hot or very cold.

Self-management

Tobacco use: If you smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco while taking this drug, your doctor may increase your dosage of this drug. If you stop smoking while taking this drug, they may reduce your dosage.

Clinical monitoring

You and your doctor should monitor certain health issues. This can help make sure you stay safe while you take this drug. These issues include:

  • Kidney function. Blood tests can check how well your kidneys are working.
  • Liver function. Blood tests can check how well your liver is working.

Sun sensitivity

This drug can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. This increases your risk of sunburn. Avoid the sun if you can. If you can’t, be sure to wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen.

Hidden costs

You may need a blood test to help your doctor decide if erlotinib is right for you. If your doctor prescribes this drug, you may also need blood tests during your treatment. The cost of these tests will depend on your insurance coverage.

Insurance

Many insurance companies require a prior authorization for this drug. This means your doctor may need to get approval from your insurance company before your insurance company will pay for the prescription.

Are there any alternatives?

There are other drugs available to treat your condition. Some may be better suited for you than others. Talk to your doctor about other drug options that may work for you.

SECTION 5 of 5

How Much Does erlotinib Cost?

Oral tablet

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Content developed in collaboration with University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group

Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on January 22, 2016

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.
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