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Erlotinib is used to treat metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, as first line treatment, maintenance treatment, or after failure of one prior chemotherapy. It is also used to treat locally advanced, unresectable (which cannot be removed by surgery), or metastatic (cancer which has spread) pancreatic cancer in combination with another drug called gemcitabine.

How it works

Erlotinib belongs to a class of medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. It works by preventing the activity of a protein called epidermal growth factor, and thereby stops the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Common side effects

Nausea, Neuropathy, Nail disorder, Rash, Abdominal pain, Abnormal liver function tests, Acne, Change in body weight, Conjunctivitis, Cough, Depression, Diarrhoea, Dry skin, Shortness of breath, Fatigue, Flatulence, Flushing, Inflammation of hair follicles, Gastrointestinal bleeding, Gastrointestinal disturbance, Hair loss, Headache, Indigestion, Infection, Itching, Decreased white blood cell count, Loss of appetite, Respiratory disorder, Feeling of cold, Skin fissures, Stomatitis, Vomiting


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Expert advice

  • Erlotinib tablets should be taken either 1 hour before or 2 hours after ingestion of food.
  • Erlotinib is not recommended for children and adolescents under 18 years of age.
  • Stop smoking and use effective contraceptive measures while on erlotinib treatment.
  • Do not start erlotinib if you use contact lenses, have had eye problems (ulcers in front part of eye, dry eyes, inflammation in front part of eye), liver or kidney problems, Gilbert’s syndrome (liver disorder that causes increased bilirubin), intolerance to some sugars, are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • Tell your doctor if you suffer from breathing difficulty associated with fever or cough, severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, severe blistering or peeling of skin, severe pain in abdomen, acute or increasing pain and redness in eye, blurred vision or sensitivity to light, increased eye watering.

Frequently asked questions


Q. Is erlotinib cytotoxic, chemotherapeutic drug, biologic or monoclonal antibody?
Erlotinib is not a cytotoxic, chemotherapy drug, or monoclonal antibody. Erlotinib is a biologic tyrosine kinase inhibitor.
Q. Is erlotinib FDA approved?
Yes, erlotinib is approved by FDA.
Q. Does erlotinib cause neutropenia?
Yes, erlotinib can cause neutropenia.
Q. How long does erlotinib work?
A single dose of erlotinib works for around 36 hours.

Content on this page was last updated on 30 September, 2016, by Dr. Varun Gupta (MD Pharmacology)