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Erlotinib (Tarceva) 449

Erlotinib (Tarceva) 449

This leaflet provides information on a course of treatment called erlotinib.  The leaflet will explain what this is and when and how it is given.  It will also tell you about common side effects that you may experience.  Contact telephone numbers and details of how to obtain further information on erlotinib are given at the end of the leaflet.

What is erlotinib?

Erlotinib is an anti cancer drug.  It is not chemotherapy.  It works by slowing down or stopping the cancer’s growth.  

Erlotinib is given as tablets which are usually taken daily.

Why am I having erlotinib?

Your doctor has prescribed erlotinib because it has been found to be effective in controlling your type of cancer.

How should I take the erlotinib tablets?

Erlotinib tablets should be taken once a day with a glass of water.  Try to take the tablets at approximately the same time each day.  Erlotinib should be taken on an empty stomach.  That means at least one hour before food or at least two hours after eating.  

How many tablets will I need to take?

It is usual to have one 150mg tablet daily but this dose may be changed by your doctor.  The amount you need to take will be clearly marked on the boxes.  

How should I store the erlotinib tablets?

Your tablets should be stored in their original packaging in a safe place away from children.  They should be kept in a cool dry place.  Any unused tablets should be returned to the hospital pharmacy or your local chemist for safe disposal.  


We advise you to stop smoking whilst taking erlotinib as smoking reduces its effectiveness.  If you would like further information on how to stop smoking please ask your GP or telephone the smokers helpline Wales on 0800 085 2219

Can I bring relatives and friends with me? 

You are welcome to bring someone to stay with you during your treatment. Space is limited so there is not usually room for more than one person.  Treatment areas are not suitable for young children.

What are the possible side effects?

There are a number of possible side effects which can occur with erlotinib treatment.  The doctors, nurses and pharmacists can give you advice or answer any questions you may have.

Skin reactions

Skin reactions are the most common side effect of erlotinib.  This is usually an acne-type rash which may be dry and itchy and cause mild discomfort.  For a small number of people this reaction may be more severe.  A severe rash would affect a large part of your body, may be painful and may become infected. 

To reduce the possibility of severe skin reaction we suggest that you:

  • use non-perfumed moisturising creams on your face and upper body from the start of your treatment 
  • avoid exposure to the sun, wear a hat and use a high factor sunscreen
  • don’t use hot water on your skin
  • don’t use soap if your skin is dry - use a soap alternative such as aqueous cream 
  • try not to rub your skin vigorously - pat gently dry 
  • wear comfortable clothes and shoes that do not rub

This skin reaction is temporary and will resolve completely after you have finished treatment.  If you develop a severe skin reaction which is causing you pain or stopping you carrying out your normal activities, please contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.


Some people may feel sick whilst taking erlotinib but this can usually be well controlled with anti sickness medication.  If you are sick more than once in 24 hours despite taking regular anti-sickness medicine, you should stop taking your erlotinib tablets and contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.


You may have diarrhoea with this treatment.  If this occurs it is important that you drink plenty of fluids.  Medication is available to control diarrhoea.  If you have four or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you please contact Velindre Cancer Centre immediately.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Tiredness and fatigue

Erlotinib treatment can make you feel more tired than usual.  It is important to listen to your body and rest if you need to, but carry out your normal activities if you feel able.  Some people find it beneficial to take gentle exercise as well as taking rest.

Sore mouth

Your mouth may become sore or you may notice small ulcers. Your doctor may prescribe mouthwashes or medication to help with this. 

Some people find that their mouth is too sensitive for regular toothpaste.  If this happens try using mild children’s toothpaste.

If your mouth becomes very painful, or you are finding it difficult to eat and drink, you should stop taking your erlotinib tablets and contact Velindre Cancer Centre for advice.  The telephone number is at the end of the leaflet.

Eye problems 

Some people develop sore, red eyes (conjunctivitis) or dry eyes while they are being treated with erlotinib. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops to help with this. Let your doctor know if you notice any changes to your eyes.   

Blood clots

A diagnosis of cancer can increase your risk of developing a blood clot (thrombosis), and having cancer treatment may increase this risk further.  It is important to tell your doctor immediately if you have symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in your leg, or breathlessness and chest pain.  

Blood clots can be very serious.  However, most clots can usually be successfully treated with drugs to thin the blood.  Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Other side effects

Very rarely some people having erlotinib may experience breathing problems caused by the tablets.  If you notice new breathing problems, please contact your doctor or specialist nurse.  You will be monitored at regular clinic visits.  

It is important you do not become pregnant or father a child whilst having this treatment as it could damage the unborn baby.  

Is it alright to take other medicines with erlotinib?

If you are taking other medicines, vitamins or herbal remedies please let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know.  There are a small number of medicines that you may have to avoid, these include St. John’s Wort.

Sometimes cancer drugs can have very serious side effects which rarely can be life threatening. It is important to inform Velindre cancer centre if you are concerned about any side-effects.

Manufacturer’s patient information leaflets

Velindre leaflets provide information about very common and common side-effects: for more information regarding the less common side-effects please refer to the manufacturers patient information leaflets, obtained from Velindre pharmacy and/or on the internet at Sometimes patients may find these leaflets difficult to read however. Please ask if you would like a copy from your doctor or from Velindre pharmacy

Contact telephone numbers

Velindre Cancer Centre 029 2061 5888

Ask for the treatment helpline if you are unwell at home and need immediate attention at any time of the day or night. For example you should phone if you:

  • Are sick more than once in 24 hours
  • Have 4 or more bowel movements in 24 hours above what is normal for you
  • Have a very sore mouth 

Pharmacy department 029 2061 5888 ext 6223

Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm for queries about your medicines

Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010

cancer helpline 


Smokers helpline Wales on 0800 085 2219

This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by a team of doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.