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What is Tarceva®?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Tarceva® is a brand name for the generic medication erlotinib. It is prescribed to treat non-small cell lung cancer after the disease has already begun to spread to other areas of the body. A patient will typically take Tarceva® if they have already tried other chemotherapy drugs with no success. This drug, a kinase inhibitor, works by interfering with a protein in the cancer cells, causing the replication of cancer cells to slow or even stop.

Patients will typically take Tarceva® once daily, on an empty stomach. The only available form of this drug is a tablet, which may be a dosage strength of 25 milligram (mg), 100 mg, or 150 mg. During the course of treatment, the doctor will evaluate the patient's response to the drug. He may adjust the dosage strength, as needed.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

It is somewhat common for patients taking Tarceva® to experience a poor appetite, fatigue, and a skin rash. They may also notice coughing, shortness of breath, and swelling of the limbs or extremities. Nausea, vomiting, and headache are also possible. Patients who suffer from diarrhea may benefit from eating small, bland meals throughout the day. Hair loss, darkening of the skin, and depression or anxiety have also been reported.

Patients should contact their doctors immediately if they experience more severe side effects, such as dizziness, fainting, or severe shortness of breath. Dark urine, decreased urination, and vomit that has the appearance of coffee grounds are also potentially serious side effects. An irregular or pounding heartbeat, difficult speech, and chest pain may occur. Some patients may notice the appearance of eyelashes on the inside of their eyelids. Dry, painful eyes, sunken eyes, or pale or yellow skin may also occur.

The doctor will likely provide the patient with self-care guidelines to follow while taking Tarceva®. Patients should avoid consuming grapefruit and other grapefruit products, as these can interfere with the drug. Using tobacco may decrease Tarceva®'s effectiveness. Patients should wear sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure, as they will be more susceptible to sunburns. It is also recommended that they use mild, alcohol-free cosmetic products, soap, and moisturizers to help avoid skin problems.

Tarceva® can harm an unborn or nursing baby, so women are advised to use a barrier method of birth control while taking this drug. Patients who have liver or kidney disease may be unable to use this medication. They should also alert the doctor to any lung problems they have, other than lung cancer. Patients must disclose all other medications and supplements they take to avoid potential interactions.

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      Doctor taking notes