“I started on 150 mg of Tarceva,” says a fighter on Cancer Compass, “and now 8 days later I find a very unpleasant rash on my face, and neck, and more coming on my arms.”
“My wife has been on Tarceva for 45 days,” says a caregiver, also on Cancer Compass. “Rash developed on her face and abdomen [sic].”
Tarceva is a non-chemo drug used to treat lung and pancreatic cancers. It works by targeting certain proteins that can contribute to tumor-cell growth, and has been proven to prolong survival in patients. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the most common side effect is a rash, which usually develops about 8–10 days after the start of treatment, and typically affects skin above the waist. (Chemotherapy drugs like Paclitaxel, Bleomycin, L-Asparaginase, Iressa, Erbitux, and Docetaxel can cause a similar rash.) It shows up as red spots or tiny “pimple-like” blotches, and can cause severe dryness and redness, resembling sunburn. Studies of patients taking Tarceva show that about 75% develop the rash. It can come and go, and is commonly referred to as “acneiform,” but it isn’t acne and shouldn’t be treated like acne.
It’s devastating for men and women who have supposedly outgrown teenage pimples to have to deal with this “acne-like” rash on top of everything else. Healthcare professionals advise patients to change habits before it shows up. If you haven’t already, switch to natural, sensitive-skin cleansers and moisturizers (baby formulas and organics are great because of their low-to-negligible chemical content), get your hands on a non-chemical sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), and if you’re a woman, switch to moisturizing, toxic-free mineral foundations and cover-ups. (Good ones: Jane Iredale’s mineral foundations or chemical-free RMS Beauty cover-ups.)
Nurses recommend spraying baby oil on your back, scalp, and other out-of-reach areas. Since we know the dangers of mineral oil (main ingredient in baby oil), we suggest you choose toxin-free, mineral-oil-free formulas. We love CV Skinlabs Body Repair lotion, as it has no potentially harmful fragrances, yet has calming and healing aloe and calendula to help soothe and soften. You can also try fragrance-free Earth Mama’s baby oil with calming calendula and chamomile specially formulated for sensitive skin. It costs the same as baby oil from the drug store-which shows that switching to healthy formulas is not necessarily more expensive! (Click here to read our post on why organic is beneficial, and go to Pristine Planet for more organic baby oils.)
Once you have the rash, try natural remedies first. MotherNature.com recommends washing with soothing dried chamomile and water, adding ground oatmeal in the bath, drinking apple and dark grape juices, and increasing your intake of vitamins A and C and zinc. We recommend CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray. If you store it in the refrigerator, it will provide an instant cooling relief, then goes on to help heal and tame inflammation with chamomile, cucumber and water lily.
There’s some research supporting the idea that the anti-inflammatory action of omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce rash, so try increasing your intake of fatty fish (salmon, sardines), nuts, and herbs like evening primrose. Clay pastes can reduce symptoms-try Nature’s Supplements Bentonite. Other patients recommend you slather the area with almond oil and a moisturizer from Origins (Never Say Dry Face Moisturizer), apply sunscreen everyday, choose creamy makeup, get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet (in the form of cod liver oil, or fish oil), and repeatedly apply moisturizer throughout the day. A cancer fighter from Lung Cancer Alliance suggested applying plain old honey (natural antibacterial) and washing it off an hour later: “Sounds weird but it worked for me.”
If natural remedies are ineffective or in severe cases, medical options are available. Dwight of Tarcevarash.com had good luck using Silvadene crème, which helps prevent bacteria from spreading. Doctors also recommend creams with hydrocortisone or clindamyacin. Rashes that don’t respond to creams may be treated with antibiotics, such as tetracycline or doxycycline. If your rash becomes severe, talk to your doctor about reducing your dosage, or stop treatment temporarily. You may also seek out a skilled dermatologist in your area.
The silver lining: If you get the rash, that’s a sign the medication is working! Remember that when you finish the treatment, the rash will most likely disappear, so hang in there.
Have you had an experience with Tarceva rash? Have any great recommendations? Please pass them along!