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Tarceva Rash

What You Can Do To Manage a Tarceva Rash


Updated November 23, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A rash can be a common side effect of Tarceva (erlotinib), a drug used to treat pancreatic cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The rash generally appears within 10 days of starting the drug and is acne-like in appearance. It can also appear as dry, reddened skin. A Tarceva rash can develop all over the body, but above the abdomen and face tend to be the most common areas affected.

While the rash can be bothersome, it can be an indicator of the drug's effectiveness. A 2007 study found that those who developed a rash while taking Tarceva had better outcomes than those who did not. Oncologists consider the rash favorable because of this, though it is not an absolute indicator of the drug's efficacy.

What To Do If You Develop a Rash From Tarceva

It is important to let your doctor know as soon as the first signs of a rash develop. Your doctor will want to monitor the rash to ensure that it is not worsening. She may prescribe an oral and/or topical antibiotic or steroid to manage the rash. It is important to note that while the rash may look like acne, it is not. You may be tempted to use over-the-counter acne treatments, but that is not recommended. These OTC acne medications can worsen the rash and exacerbate dry skin.

Some additional tips:

Stay Hydrated It is vital that you stay well hydrated while taking Tarceva. By doing so, you will also help your skin.

Avoid Sun Exposure Sun exposure can irritate sensitive skin affected by a rash. Also, many antibiotics can increase your sun sensitivity, making you vulnerable to sunburns. If you do go outdoors, wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Artificial sources of sunlight like tanning beds should also be avoided.

Wash Your Face With a Mild Cleanser Wash your face with a mild cleanser like Cetaphil, Phisoderm, Eucerin, or whatever is recommended by your doctor. If your skin is very irritated, you may want to splash water on the face to rinse instead of using a washcloth. If you do use a washcloth, you may find it helpful to dab (not rub) it on your face to remove your cleanser.

Use a Mild Moisturizer Use a mild, fragrance-free moisturizer for the skin. Phisoderm, Aquaphor, and Eucerin brands are commonly recommended, but other brands can be used as well. Look for products with labels that note that they are alcohol-free, fragrance-free or for sensitive skin. Ask your doctor or nurse for recommendations if you are unsure. Many Tarceva users also use almond oil or mineral oil to relieve and prevent dryness.

Choose Cosmetics Wisely If you use make-up like foundation and concealer, choose one that is gentle on the skin. Many oncology nurses recommend Neutrogena and Almay brand products because they are generally mild on the skin. If you have dry skin, you may find cream-based foundations to be good choices. Those with acne-like breakouts may find mineral powder-based foundation to work better. You may have to try a few different kinds before you find the right coverage you are looking for. If you have any questions or need a recommendation, don't hesitate to ask your nurse or doctor.

Switch to Perfume- and Dye-Free Laundry Detergent Rashes can also be sensitive to the dyes and perfumes of laundry detergent. Look for "clear formulas" if your skin appears to be sensitive to your normal detergent.


American Cancer Society. Erlotinib. Accessed February 10, 2010.

Wacker B, Nagrani T, Weinberg J, et al. Correlation between development of rash and efficacy in patients treated with the epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor erlotinib in two large phase III studies. Clin Cancer Res. 2007;13(13):3913-3921.

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