Bexarotene

Other Names: Targretin®

About This Drug

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

Possible Side Effects 

  • Increase in your cholesterol and triglyceride level
  • Decrease in the number of white blood cells. This may raise your risk of infection.
  • Changes in your thyroid function
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • Risk of infection
  • Swelling of your legs, ankles and/or feet
  • Rash
  • Dry skin

Note: Each of these side effects above was reported in 10% or greater of patients treated with bexarotene. Not all possible side effects are included above. 

Warnings and Precautions

  • Cholesterol and triglyceride changes may be severe
  • Inflammation of your pancreas, which can very rarely be life-threatening
  • Changes in your liver function, which can very rarely cause liver failure which could be life-threatening
  • Inflammation of the gallbladder. Possible signs are nausea/vomiting, fever, tenderness in the right side of the abdomen.
  • A severe decrease in the number of white blood cells - this may raise your risk of infection
  • Sensitivity to sunlight/light, you may get a skin rash/reaction while being out in the sun, sun lamps and tanning beds.
  • Cataracts. Clouding of the lens in your eye. This drug may make cataracts worse or may raise the chance of new cataracts.
  • Blood sugar levels may change. If you have diabetes, some of the medications you may take may interact with bexarotene. Changes may need to be made to your diabetes medication. Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes.

Note: Some of the side effects above are very rare. If you have concerns and/or questions, please discuss them with your medical team.

Important Information

  • Women should start treatment with bexarotene on the 2nd or 3rd day of a normal menstrual period.
  • A monthly pregnancy test is required for women of child-bearing potential.
  • Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) may not be effective with this medication.

How to Take Your Medication

  • Take the medicine with food daily. 
  • Missed dose: If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you think about it.  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.
  • If you vomit a dose, take your next dose at the regular time.  Do not take 2 doses at the same time.
  • Handling: Wash your hands after handling your medicine, your caretakers should not handle your medicine with bare hands and should wear latex gloves.
  • This drug may be present in the saliva, tears, sweat, urine, stool, vomit, semen, and vaginal secretions. Talk to your doctor and/or your nurse about the necessary precautions to take during this time.
  • Storage: Store this medicine in the original container at room temperature, away from light, heat and humidity. Discuss with your nurse or your doctor how to dispose of unused medicine.

Treating Side Effects

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have a cold, the flu, or other infections.
  • Take your temperature as your doctor or nurse tells you, and whenever you feel like you may have a fever.
  • Keeping your pain under control is important to your well-being. Please tell your doctor or nurse if you are experiencing pain.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (a minimum of eight glasses per day is recommended).
  • 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).
  • To help with nausea and vomiting, eat small, frequent meals instead of three large meals a day. Choose foods and drinks that are at room temperature. Ask your nurse or doctor about other helpful tips and medicine that is available to help or stop lessen these symptoms.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you’re diabetic, keep good control of your blood sugar level. Tell your nurse or your doctor if your glucose levels are higher or lower than normal.

Food and Drug Interactions

  • There are no known interactions of bexarotene with food, however this medication should be taken with food.
  • To avoid serious toxic effects, do not take more than 15,000 units of vitamin A per day while you are taking bexarotene. Talk to your doctor about all of the vitamins you are taking.
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist about all other prescription medicines and dietary supplements you are taking before starting this medicine as there are 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.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have any of these symptoms and/or any new or unusual symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5 F (38 C) or higher
  • Chills
  • Blurred vision or other changes in eyesight
  • Pain in your abdomen that does not go away
  • Nausea that stops you from eating or drinking  and/or is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Throwing up more than 3 times a day
  • Pain in the right side of your abdomen, or new back pain
  • Signs of possible liver problems: dark urine, pale bowel movements, bad stomach pain, feeling very tired and weak, unusual itching, or yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • New rash and/or itching
  • Rash that is not relieved by prescribed medicines
  • Develop sensitivity to sunlight/light
  • Fatigue that interferes with your daily activities
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Weight gain of 5 pounds in one week (fluid retention)
  • Abnormal blood sugar
  • Unusual thirst, passing urine often, headache, sweating, shakiness, irritability
  • If you think you may be pregnant, or may have impregnated your partner

Reproduction Warnings

  • Pregnancy warning: This drug can have harmful effects on the unborn baby. Women of child bearing potential should use two effective methods of birth control, one of which should be non-hormonal, 1 month before treatment, during your cancer treatment and for at least 1 month after treatment. Men with female partners of child bearing potential should use effective methods of birth control during your cancer treatment and for at least 1 month after your cancer treatment. Let your doctor know right away if you think you may be pregnant or may have impregnated your partner. Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) may not be effective with this medication.
  • Breastfeeding warning: It is not known if this drug passes into breast milk. Women should not breast feed during treatment because this drug could enter the breast milk and cause harm to a breast feeding baby.
  • Fertility warning: Human fertility studies have not been done with this drug. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you plan to have children. Ask for information on sperm or egg banking.

Revised November 2017

This information is intended to provide helpful health information to the general public and is not to be used in place of any medical, health, psychological, or any other kind of personal professional services.  The information herein does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions of the medicines mentioned, nor is the information intended as medical advice for individual problems or for making an evaluation as to the risks and benefits of taking a particular medication.  The dose, method of administration and contraindications for any administered medication should be confirmed before use.  UPMC specifically disclaims all responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, which is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any medication mentioned herein.