Generic Name Brand Name
erlotinib Tarceva

How It Works

Erlotinib blocks a substance called the epidermal growth factor that helps some cancer cells grow and reproduce. Erlotinib is a medication 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 medications that are tried first for non–small cell lung cancer.

How Well It Works

Erlotinib is an effective antitumor medication. However, the type and extent of a cancer determines how effectively this medication slows or stops the growth of cancer cells in the body.

Side Effects

Possible serious side effects of erlotinib include:

  • Allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reaction can include trouble breathing; swelling or closing of the throat; swollen face, tongue, or lips; or hives.
  • Eye pain or irritation.
  • Severe or ongoing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

In rare cases, erlotinib can cause a serious lung problem called interstitial lung disease. Report any shortness of breath or cough immediately to your oncologist.

Less serious side effects may include:

  • Rash.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea and vomiting (rare).
  • Feeling of weakness.

If a blood thinner (anticoagulant) such as Coumadin is also being taken, blood clotting tests should be monitored 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.)

What To Think About

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 medication. Discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.

Erlotinib can cause birth defects. Do not use this medication if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or to father a child while you are taking it.

Medications 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.


Other Works Consulted

  • Erlotinib (Tarceva) for advanced non–small cell lung cancer (2005). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 47(1205): 25–27.

Last Updated: June 4, 2008

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