​Bexarotene (Generic Name)

Other Names: Targretin®

About This Drug

Bexarotene is used to treat cancer. It is given by mouth (orally).

Possible Side Effects (More Common)

  • Rash or skin and tissue irritation. You may have redness, peeling, dryness, or itching
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) that may last for a few days
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue (low energy, feeling weak)
  • Nausea and throwing up (vomiting).  Medicines are available to stop or lessen these side effects.
  • Decreased appetite (decreased hunger)
  • Hair loss. You may notice hair getting thin. Some patients lose their hair. Hair often grows back when treatment is done.
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Swelling of your legs, ankles and/or feet
  • Bone marrow depression. This is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This may raise your risk of infection, make you tired and weak (fatigue), and raise your risk of bleeding.
  • Increase in triglyceride and cholesterol in your blood. Your doctor will order a blood test to check your cholesterol and triglycerides as needed.
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).  This drug can decrease the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood.  You may have a lack of energy, feel cold easily, thinning of hair, or have trouble moving your bowels (constipation).  Your doctor will order a blood test to check your thyroid function as needed. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone supplements, if needed. 

Possible Side Effects (Less Common)

  • Irritation of your pancreas (pancreatitis). You may have severe stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Changes in your liver function. Your doctor will check your liver function as needed.
  • Sensitivity to light (photosensitivity). You may become more sensitive to the light from the sun, sun lamps, and tanning beds. Your eyes may water more, mostly in bright light.

Treating Side Effects

  • If you get a rash do not put anything on it unless your doctor or nurse says you may. Keep the area around the rash clean and dry. Ask your doctor for medicine if your rash bothers you.
  • Drink 6-8 cups of fluids each day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake due to some other health problem. A cup is 8 ounces of fluid. If you throw up or have loose bowel movements, you should drink more fluids so that you do not become dehydrated (lack water in the body from losing too much fluid).
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that is available to help stop or lessen loose bowel movements
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about medicine that is available to help stop or lessen fever, headache, muscle and joint aches.
  • Wear dark sunglasses and use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher when you are outdoors even for a short time. Cover up when you are out in the sun. Wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Keep your neck, chest, and back covered.

Food and Drug Interactions

  • There are known interactions with bexarotene and grapefruit. Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while taking this drug. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may raise the levels of bexarotene in your body. This could make side effects worse.
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist about all other prescription medicines and dietary supplements you are taking before starting this medicine as there are a lot of known drug interactions with bexarotene.  Also, check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or dietary supplement to make sure that there are no interactions.
  • Bexarotene is a form of vitamin A and too much vitamin A can cause side effects. Do not take more than the recommended daily dietary allowance of vitamin A (4000 to 5000 international units). If you take vitamins, check the label to see how much vitamin A they contain. If you are not sure, ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.
  • Bexarotene can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills (oral contraceptives).  Women who have the potential to become pregnant receiving bexarotene should use two reliable forms of contraception (including at least one non-hormonal form, such as condoms).  Your health care team can provide more information about this risk.

Important Information

  • Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while taking this medicine. 
  • Swallow the medicine whole.  Do not chew, break or crush it.
  • Take this medicine with a meal, at the same time each day.
  • Store this medicine in the original container at room temperature
  • Missed dose: If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you think about it, just be sure to take it with food.  If it is close to your next dose, then skip the missed dose and go back to your normal schedule.  Do not take 2 doses at the same time or extra doses.

Other Information

When you tell a doctor or nurse your health history, always tell them that you have received bexarotene.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain may go away and come back or it can be constant. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Sometimes pain is felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. If any of these symptoms last 2 minutes, call 911.
  • Symptoms of a stroke such as sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm, or leg, mostly on one side of your body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, feeling dizzy, loss of balance or coordination; or sudden, bad headache with no known cause.  If you have any of these symptoms for 2 minutes, call 911. 
  • Loose bowel movements (diarrhea) more than 4 times a day or diarrhea with weakness or lightheadedness
  • Rash or itching
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking
  • Throwing up more than 3 times a day
  • Signs of liver problems: dark urine, pale bowel movements, bad stomach pain, feeling very tired and weak, unusual itching, or yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • Severe back pain or stomach pain

Call your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Nausea that is not relieved by prescribed medicines.
  • Rash that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Swelling of legs, ankles, or feet
  • Weight gain of 5 pounds in one week (fluid retention)
  • Lasting loss of appetite or rapid weight loss of five pounds in a week
  • Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Extreme weakness that interferes with normal activities

Sexual Problems and Reproduction Concerns

  • Pregnancy warning: This drug may cause very harmful effects on an unborn child. Bexarotene should never be used by women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant while taking the drug. Even 1 dose taken by a pregnant woman can cause these very harmful effects. Male patients with sexual partners who are pregnant, possibly pregnant, or who could become pregnant must use condoms during sexual intercourse while taking bexarotene.  Your healthcare team will talk to you and give you written information about this risk.
  • Breast feeding warning: It is not known if this drug passes into breast milk.  For this reason, women should talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of breast feeding during treatment with this drug because this drug may enter the breast milk and badly harm a breast feeding baby.

New Sheet: November 2014

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