If you have certain types of cancer, your doctor might suggest Tarceva as a treatment option for you. It’s a prescription drug used in adults to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that:

Tarceva is also used in adults to treat pancreatic cancer that is any of the following:

  • metastatic
  • locally advanced (has spread to nearby blood vessels and lymph nodes)
  • unable to be surgically removed

Tarceva comes as a tablet you swallow. It contains the active ingredient erlotinib. (An active ingredient is what makes a drug work.) Tarceva is usually taken long term.

For more information about Tarceva, including details about its uses, see this in-depth article.

Like other drugs, Tarceva can cause mild to serious side effects. Keep reading to learn more.

Some people may experience mild to serious side effects during their Tarceva treatment. Some of the more common side effects reported by people who took Tarceva in studies include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

This section lists some of the mild side effects of Tarceva.

Examples of mild side effects that have been reported with Tarceva include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

In most cases, these side effects should be temporary. And some may be easily managed. But if you have any symptoms that are ongoing or bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And do not stop taking Tarceva unless your doctor recommends it.

Tarceva may cause mild side effects other than those listed above. See the drug’s prescribing information for details.

Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you’d like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with Tarceva, visit MedWatch.

Serious side effects from Tarceva are rare but did occur in some people. Some of the serious side effects seen in studies of the drug include:

If you develop serious side effects while taking Tarceva, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
† An allergic reaction is possible after taking Tarceva, but this side effect wasn’t reported in studies.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about Tarceva’s side effects.

Do side effects of Tarceva differ when it’s used to treat lung cancer vs. pancreatic cancer?

The more common and milder side effects of Tarceva are similar whether the drug is used to treat lung cancer or pancreatic cancer. But some side effects were reported more often when treating one condition versus the other (and vice versa).

For the treatment of pancreatic cancer, Tarceva is taken with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine. It’s not known for sure whether side effects reported in studies for this use were from an individual drug or the combination of both.

In studies of the drug for treating lung cancer, Tarceva was not taken with other medications. This could be a possible reason for a difference in side effects between the different cancer studies.

Are there any long-term side effects of Tarceva?

Tarceva is not known to cause any long-term side effects, according to the drug’s prescribing information. But there are certain side effects that may take longer to recover from after you stop taking Tarceva. These are rare but can include:

Could I experience side effects after stopping Tarceva treatment?

Yes, it’s possible some side effects could occur after you stop Tarceva treatment, but none were reported in the drug’s studies.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned about possible side effects from stopping Tarceva. But do not stop taking this drug without talking with your doctor first.

Learn more about some of the side effects Tarceva may cause.

Skin problems

Skin rash was the most reported side effect in Tarceva studies. Rashes ranged from mild to severe, and some reportedly got worse after sun exposure. Talk with your doctor if you experience a severe rash or a rash that will not go away.

Other skin-related side effects include:

  • increased or new body hair growth
  • brittle or loose nails
  • dry, cracked skin
  • darkening of skin tone

What might help

Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there are any over-the-counter rash treatments you could use. (It will likely depend on the type and severity of your rash.) Be sure to wear sunscreen when you’re outside and limit your overall sun exposure.

Eye problems

Eye side effects reported in studies ranged from mild to severe.

Symptoms of a corneal ulcer (a sore on the front of your eye), which is a severe eye side effect, may include:

  • pus or drainage from your eye
  • a feeling like something is stuck in your eye
  • eye pain
  • redness

Mild eye side effects include:

What might help

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about available treatments for eye side effects. Sometimes, placing a warm or cool washcloth over your eye, or closing your eyes and staying in a dark place, may be helpful. Conjunctivitis or a corneal ulcer will likely require medical treatment, so tell your doctor right away if you have any bothersome eye symptoms.

Liver function test abnormalities

In Tarceva studies, the following liver function test abnormalities were reported:

In many cases, elevated enzyme levels in liver function tests were temporary or associated with cancer spreading to the liver. But liver function test abnormalities can also be a sign of liver damage. This is a rare side effect reported in Tarceva studies. Symptoms of liver damage can include:

  • nausea
  • jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes)
  • fatigue (low energy)
  • diarrhea

What might help

Your doctor will likely monitor your liver function closely while you take Tarceva. If you have severely elevated enzyme levels in liver function tests, your doctor may temporarily stop your Tarceva treatment or prescribe a different drug.

Allergic reaction

Like most drugs, Tarceva can cause an allergic reaction in some people. But this side effect wasn’t reported in studies. Symptoms can be mild to serious and can include:

  • skin rash
  • itchiness
  • flushing (temporary warmth, redness, or deepening of skin color)
  • swelling under your skin, usually in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe

What might help

If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may suggest a treatment to manage your symptoms. Examples include:

  • an antihistamine you take by mouth, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • a product you apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream

If your doctor confirms you’ve had a mild allergic reaction to Tarceva, they’ll decide if you should continue using it.

If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.

If your doctor confirms you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to Tarceva, they may have you switch to a different treatment.

Keeping track of side effects

During your Tarceva treatment, consider taking notes on any side effects you’re having. You can then share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful when you first start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.

Your side effect notes can include things such as:

  • what dose of the drug you were taking when you had the side effect
  • how soon you had the side effect after starting that dose
  • what your symptoms were
  • how it affected your daily activities
  • what other medications you were taking
  • any other information you feel is important

Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help them learn more about how Tarceva affects you. They can then use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.

Tarceva can sometimes cause harmful effects in people with certain conditions. This is known as a drug-condition interaction. Other factors may also affect whether Tarceva is a good treatment option for you. Talk with your doctor about your health history before starting this drug. Factors to consider include those described below.

Liver problems. If you have certain liver problems, you may have an increased risk of liver-related side effects while taking Tarceva. Your doctor will likely monitor your liver function closely if they decide Tarceva is the right treatment for you.

Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to Tarceva or any of its ingredients, your doctor will likely not prescribe it for you. Ask them about other treatments that might be better options.

Peptic ulcers or diverticular disease. If you have a history of peptic ulcers or diverticular disease, you may have an increased risk of gastrointestinal perforation (tears in the intestines) with Tarceva. Tell your doctor if you currently have or have had these conditions. They’ll decide if Tarceva is safe for you.

Alcohol and Tarceva

It’s not known whether Tarceva interacts with alcohol. Talk with your doctor about how much alcohol is safe for you to consume while taking this drug.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding while taking Tarceva

Tarceva is not safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Females* who are able to become pregnant should use a highly effective method of birth control while taking this drug. And they should continue using this birth control for 1 month after their Tarceva treatment ends.

There is not enough data to know whether Tarceva passes into breast milk or what effect it could have on a breastfed child. But due to the potential risk of serious side effects in a breastfed child, you should not breastfeed while taking Tarceva or for 2 weeks after your last dose.

Talk with your doctor for more information.

*In this article, we use the term “female” to refer to someone’s sex assigned at birth. For information about the difference between sex and gender, see this article.

Most Tarceva side effects are mild, but some severe side effects have been reported in studies. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about specific side effects. Below are a few questions you may want to ask:

  • Am I at an increased risk of side effects compared with others?
  • Will taking other medications increase my risk of side effects from Tarceva?
  • Does my risk of side effects depend on my dosage of the drug?

To learn more about Tarceva, see these articles:

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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 another 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.