How does it work ?
What does it look like ?
How is it given?
Side effects
Less common side effects
Other information

How does it work ?

Tarceva (also called Erlotinib) is used to treat people with Non-small cell lung cancer, whose cancer has come back after or not responded to another treatment, such as chemotherapy. It is also being used to treat other types of cancers that have come back or spread, in clinical trials.

You may hear your doctor refer to Tarceva as an EGFRs (epidermal growth factor receptors) inhibitor. These type of drugs aim to kill cancer cells while causing little harm to surrounding normal cells.

Epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) are on the surface of many types of cancer cells. They allow epidermal growth factor (a type of protein) to attach to them. When this happens, a kinase (a type of protein which plays a role in regulating how a cell works and grows) is activated, triggering the cell to grow and multiply.

Tarceva works by attaching itself to the kinase and in this way interrupts the cancer cell from growing and dividing.

Your doctor will test your cancer cells taken from biopsy or surgery to check the levels of EGFR. This will help predict whether or not your cancer will respond to Tarceva.

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What does it look like ?

Tarceva is a tablet.

How is it given?

It is taken by mouth in the morning with a glass of water, either an hour before or after a meal.

Side effects


Tarceva can cause a rash, especially on the face, chest and back. This usually appears within two weeks of starting treatment. It is important to tell your doctor if you get a rash so that they can monitor you. It should improve within a few weeks even if you are still on treatment.


If you experience diarrhoea, it is important to drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor can prescribe medications to help relieve this.

Tiredness (fatigue):

If you notice you become more tired, discuss this with your doctor or nurse who will help you find the balance between rest and activity.

Feeling sick (nausea):

Some people feel sick while on Tarceva,if you experience this, tell your doctor who can prescribe anti-sickness medications.

Sore mouth:

While on Tarceva treatment, it is important to take good care of your mouth. Drink plenty of fluids and clean your teeth regularly. Tell your doctor if you notice any soreness / redness / ulcers. If necessary they can prescribe medicines and mouthwashes.

Less common side effects:

Eye problems:

Your doctor will arrange for your eyes to be checked before commencing and during your treatment. Tarceva can cause damage to the cornea in your eye. If you notice any changes in your vision it is very important you tell your doctor.

Damage to developing foetus:

It is not known what effect Tarceva has on a developing foetus, for this reason it is not advisable for you or your partner to become pregnant while either of you are on Tarceva. It is recommended that you use a barrier form of contraception such as a condom during treatment and for some time afterwards. Your doctor can best advise you about this.

Lung complications:

Rarely Tarceva can cause damage to your lungs, this can become a very serious condition. For this reason it is very important to tell your doctor if you notice that your breathing has suddenly become worse.

Other information:

It is thought that smoking while taking Tarceva makes the drug work less effectively. Discuss this with your doctor or nurse who can help you to quit.

If your Tarceva treatment is stopped and you still have tablets at home, bring them to your pharmacy. Do not dispose of them yourself.

It is not advisable for you or your partner to become pregnant while either of you are taking Tarceva or for some time afterwards. Discuss appropriate contraception with your doctor.

If you are already pregnant before commencing Tarceva, tell your doctor.It is also recommended not to breastfeed while on Tarceva as the drug may pass to the baby.