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How Do You Know Tarceva Is Working

Posts: 64
Joined: Apr 2011



I wanted to ask for your kind help.


My mother is 88 years old and has Stage 4 esophageal cancer.


She had chemo for about 2 ½ years, but she had to stop chemo since it damaged her heart.


Without chemo, her oncologist said she only has around 6 months to live and wanted to put her in hospice.


Upon our request, the oncologist reluctantly agreed to give her Tarceva, but said that it works for less than 8 percent of esophageal cancer patients.


My mother started taking 150 mg of Tarceva but after a week or so, she couldn’t handle the side effects.  So the oncologist told her to take 100 mg. of Tarceva instead.


She has been taking 100 mg. of Tarceva for a little over 2 months.


I think Tarceva may be working for her due to a number of reasons:


(a)  Since taking Tarceva over the past 2 months or so, she hasn’t lost any more weight.  (She lost about 20 pounds due to 2 ½ years of chemo). With Tarceva, her weight increases slightly on one day, and then decreases slightly the next, but overall it has remained the same.


(b)  She has hypertension but her blood pressure is okay. 


(c)  She has atrial fibrillation, but her heart rate has been okay.


So I’m hoping all this indicates that Tarceva is working.


My mother, however, feels it is not working cause:


(a) She senses that the cancer is more active (she feels some discomfort and “activity” in the esophagus), and


(b) She has no energy and can’t walk outside the home except for about 5 minutes or so.


I tell her that when she senses some discomfort and “activity” in the esophagus, it may be because Tarceva is doing its job and eliminating the cancer cells.  But, of course, I have no idea if that’s true.  (I just invented this argument in order to give myself and my mother some badly needed hope).


However, I am honestly convinced that the fact that she can’t walk outside the home more than about 5 minutes has nothing to do with Tarceva. 


That’s because she couldn’t walk much at all prior to taking Tarceva.  The 2 ½ years of chemo took away all her energy. 


Are there any signs that would help us determine if Tarceva may be working or not?


I would greatly appreciate any help, guidance and advice you can provide.


Thank you very much for your time and kind assistance.



Posts: 844
Joined: Mar 2011

Welcome to the Lung Cancer Boards.  So sorry your mom is going through this.  The only way to be certain the Tarceva is working would be to have a ct scan.  Your dr should do this oaf yet she has been on the Tarceva 3-4 months.  So she should be due soon.  The reason you made up for the activity she feels is grounded in good solid medical science and is certainly possible.  Also if the cancer is shrinking it will leave scar tissue behind which might interfere with her breathing.   Of course it may mean something else.  Please let us know what is said.  

Posts: 64
Joined: Apr 2011

Thank you Dennycee.  I guess we will have to wait for the PET Scan results to know exactly what is going on.

Thanks once again for your kind help.  Tom

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