Skip to main content


Generic name: erlotinib
Brand name: Tarceva
Dosage form: oral tablet
Drug class: EGFR inhibitors

Medically reviewed by Philip Thornton, DipPharm. Last updated on Apr 4, 2023.

What is erlotinib?

Erlotinib is a type of targeted therapy used to treat cancer.

Erlotinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that works by blocking the kinase activity of a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is involved in cell growth and survival.

EGFR is found on the surface of normal and cancerous cells. Sometimes normal versions of the EGFR protein can contribute to the development of cancer, but in other cases mutations can occur in the EGFR protein, which enable cancer cells to grow, divide and spread faster.

Erlotinib is used to treat pancreatic cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It is only used to treat cases of NSCLC that have specific mutations in their EGRF protein - exon 19 deletions or exon 21 substitution mutations.

Erlotinib was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004. It is available under the brand name Tarceva and also as a generic tablet.

What is erlotinib used for?

Erlotinib is a prescription medication used:

Erlotinib tablets are not recommended for use in combination with platinum- based chemotherapy.

Important information

Erlotinib can cause serious side effects, including

Call your healthcare provider if you experience the following while taking erlotinib:

Who should not take erlotinib?

Do not take erlotinib if you are allergic to erlotinib or any of the ingredients in it. See below for a complete list of ingredients.

What should I tell my doctor before taking erlotinib?

Before you take erlotinib, tell your doctor about all of your medical conditions.

Tell your doctor if you smoke before starting erlotinib.

How should I take erlotinib?

What should I avoid while taking erlotinib?

Dosing information

The recommended dose of erlotinib is:

Erlotinib should be taken on an empty stomach.

What are the side effects of erlotinib?

Erlotinib can cause serious side effects including:

Erlotinib can cause skin, hair and nail problems:

The most common side effects of erlotinib in patients with NSCLC who had not received previous chemotherapy are:

The most common side effects of erlotinib in patients with NSCLC receiving it as maintenance, 2nd or 3rd line therapy are:

The most common side effects of erlotinib in patients with pancreatic cancer are:

These are not all of the possible side effects with erlotinib. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. Talk to your doctor about any side effects that bother you or do not go away.

You may report side effects to the FDA at (800) FDA-1088 or You may also report side effects to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.


Erlotinib can interact with a number of other medications. You may need to adjust the dose or timing of erlotinib or your other medications. Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new medicines or supplements.

Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice before talking with your healthcare provider.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Erlotinib can harm an unborn baby. Women should use effective birth control during treatment and for at least 1 month after the last dose of erlotinib. Tell your healthcare provider if you have become pregnant, or if you think you may be pregnant, during treatment with erlotinib.

Do not breastfeed during treatment with erlotinib and for 2 weeks after the final dose.


Keep out of reach of children.

What are the ingredients in erlotinib?

Active ingredients: erlotinib hydrochloride

Inactive ingredients in Tarceva: lactose monohydrate, hypromellose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, sodium starch glycolate, sodium lauryl sulfate and titanium dioxide.

Other generic versions of erlotinib may have different inactive ingredients. Check the product label for the version of erlotinib you take for a complete list of ingredients.

Erlotinib is distributed under the brand name Tarceva by Genentech USA, Inc., A Member of the Roche Group, 1 DNA Way, South San Francisco, CA 94080-4990. Generic versions of erlotinib are also manufactured by a number of other companies.

Popular FAQ

Erlotinib works by blocking the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein on cells that encourages cancer cell growth. Continue reading

Tarceva (erlotinib) is not a cure for lung cancer. Tarceva is a type of targeted cancer therapy that is used in the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread. It may help to shrink tumors.

Tarceva helps prolong how long NSCLC patients live for without their cancer progressing (progression-free survival time) and also helps to increase the amount of time patients live with their cancer (overall survival time). Continue reading

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.