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Targretin Side Effects

Generic Name: bexarotene

Note: This page contains side effects data for the generic drug bexarotene. It is possible that some of the dosage forms included below may not apply to the brand name Targretin.

For the Consumer

Applies to bexarotene: oral capsule

As well as its needed effects, bexarotene (the active ingredient contained in Targretin) may cause unwanted side effects that require medical attention.

Since this medication is given in varying doses, the actual frequency of side effects may vary. In general, side effects are less common with lower doses than with higher doses.

If any of the following side effects occur while taking bexarotene, check with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible:

More common
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • skin rash or other skin and mucous membrane lesions
  • fever
  • increase in lipid or cholesterol levels
  • coldness, dry, puffy skin or weight gain
  • chills, cough, hoarseness, lower back or side pain or painful or difficult urination
  • swelling of the arms, feet, hands, or legs
Less Common
  • Severe stomach pain with nausea or vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • yellow eyes or skin

Some bexarotene side effects may not need any medical attention. As your body gets used to the medicine these side effects may disappear. Your health care professional may be able to help you prevent or reduce these side effects, but do check with them if any of the following side effects continue, or if you are concerned about them:

More common
  • Abdominal pain
  • hair loss
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of strength or energy, tiredness or weakness
  • back pain
  • diarrhea
  • dry skin
  • general feeling of discomfort or illness
  • trouble in sleeping
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to bexarotene: oral capsule


Metabolic side effects have included hyperlipidemia (79%), hypercholesterolemia (32% to 62%), and increased lactic dehydrogenase (7% to 13%).[Ref]


Endocrine side effects have included hypothyroidism (29% to 53%).[Ref]


In a phase III trial on the use of bexarotene (the active ingredient contained in Targretin) for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer, a subgroup (32%) of bexarotene-treated patients developing high-grade hyperglyceridemia appeared to have better survival than controls. Therefore, triglyceride response may be a biomarker of survival benefit with bexarotene.[Ref]

Hematologic side effects have included leukopenia (17% to 47%), anemia (6% to 24%), hypochromic anemia (4% to 13%), and high-grade hypertriglyceridemia. One fatal case of subdural hematoma has also been reported.[Ref]


General side effects have included headache (30% to 42%), asthenia (20% to 45%), infection (13% to 22%), abdominal pain (4% to 11%), chills (10% to 13%), fever (5% to 17%), flu syndrome (4% to 13%), back pain (2% to 11%), and bacterial infection (1% to 13%).[Ref]


Dermatologic side effects have included rash (17% to 23%), dry skin (9% to 11%), exfoliative dermatitis (10% to 28%), alopecia (4% to 11%), and photosensitivity.[Ref]


Gastrointestinal side effects have included nausea (8% to 16%), diarrhea (7% to 42%), vomiting (4% to 13%), and anorexia (2% to 23%). Ten cases of acute pancreatitis (including one fatal case) have also been reported.[Ref]


Cardiovascular side effects have included peripheral edema (11% to 13%).[Ref]

Nervous system

Nervous system side effects have included insomnia (5% to 11%).[Ref]


Hepatic side effects have included one fatal case of liver failure. Elevations in liver function tests have included SGPT/ALT (2% to 9%), SGOT/AST (5% to 7%), and bilirubin (up to 6%).[Ref]


1. "Product Information. Targretin (bexarotene)" Ligand Pharmaceuticals, San Diego, CA.

2. Ramlau R, Zatloukal P, Jassem J, et al. "Randomized phase III trial comparing bexarotene (L1069-49)/cisplatin/vinorelbine with cisplatin/vinorelbine in chemotherapy-naive patients with advanced or metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer: SPIRIT I." J Clin Oncol 26 (2008): 1886-92

3. "Multum Information Services, Inc. Expert Review Panel"

It is possible that some side effects of Targretin may not have been reported. These can be reported to the FDA here. Always consult a healthcare professional for medical advice.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is accurate, up-to-date and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. In addition, the drug information contained herein may be time sensitive and should not be utilized as a reference resource beyond the date hereof. This material does not endorse drugs, diagnose patients, or recommend therapy. This information is a reference resource designed as supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise, skill , knowledge, and judgement of healthcare practitioners in patient care. The absence of a warning for a given drug or combination thereof in no way should be construed to indicate safety, effectiveness, or appropriateness for any given patient. does not assume any responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of materials provided. The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. If you have questions about the substances you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.