Olaparib (Lynparza®) is a targeted (biological) therapy. It is used to treat some types of ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer.

What is olaparib?

Olaparib is used to treat some types of ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer that have come back after other treatments. It may be used to treat advanced HER2-negative breast cancer. It is also being used in clinical trials to treat other cancers. It is best to read this with our information about the type of cancer you have.

Olaparib is a targeted therapy drug known as PARP inhibitors. PARPs are proteins that help damaged cells repair themselves. Olaparib blocks (inhibits) the action of PARP in cancer cells with a faulty gene (genetic mutation) called BRCA. The cancer cells cannot be repaired and then die.

You only have olaparib if you are known to have a BRCA gene mutation. You may be given olaparib after you have previously been treated with chemotherapy. You can usually take it for as long as it works for you.

Your cancer doctor can tell you if it is appropriate for you. Some people may be given olaparib as part of a clinical trial and sometimes for other cancer types. Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

How olaparib is given?

Olaparib comes as both capsules and tablets. The nurse or pharmacist will give you either capsules or tablets to take home. The doses of the tablets and capsules are not the same.

During treatment you will see a cancer doctor, a specialist nurse and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

You will have regular blood tests during treatment to check your blood cell levels and how well your kidneys are working. You keep taking olaparib for as long as your doctor tells you. Do not stop taking it without talking to your doctor.

Taking olaparib capsules

You usually take olaparib 2 times a day, 12 hours apart. How you take them depends on whether you are taking capsules or tablets:

  • capsules – take them at least 1 hour after eating and do not eat for 2 hours after taking them.
  • tablets – there are no food restrictions so you can take the tablets on an empty stomach or with food.

Take your capsules or tablets 2 times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Swallow them whole with a glass of water. Do not chew, dissolve, crush, open or divide them.

Do not eat grapefruit or Seville oranges (bitter oranges) or juices that might contain these while you are taking olaparib. It can affect how olaparib works.

Always take olaparib exactly as your doctor, nurse or pharmacist has explained. This is important to make sure it works as well as possible for you. If you forget to take your capsules or tablets, do not take a double dose. Take your next dose at the usual time and let your doctor or nurse know.

There are some important things to remember when taking your capsules or tablets:

  • Keep them in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Keep them safe and out of the sight and reach of children.
  • If you are sick just after taking the capsules, contact the hospital. You may need to take another dose.
  • Return any unused capsules to the pharmacist if your treatment is stopped.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some less common side effects.

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. If you are also having treatment with other cancer drugs, you may have some side effects that we have not listed here. Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have.

Your doctor can give you drugs to help control some side effects. It is important to take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains. This means they will be more likely to work for you. Your nurse will give you advice about managing your side effects. After your treatment is over, most side effects start to improve.

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause severe side effects. Rarely, these may be life-threatening. Your cancer doctor or nurse can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call them at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

More information

We cannot list every side effect for this treatment. There are some rare side effects that are not listed. You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information.

Common side effects of olaparib

Feeling sick

Your doctor will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explains to you. It’s easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.

If you still feel sick or are vomiting, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They can give you advice and change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.

Diarrhoea

Tell your cancer doctor or nurse straightaway if you have diarrhoea so it can be treated quickly. Follow any advice you have been given about taking anti-diarrhoea drugs. Try to drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids every day. It can help to avoid alcohol, caffeine, milk products, high-fat foods and high-fibre foods.

Contact the hospital straight away if:

  •  you have diarrhoea at night
  • you have diarrhoea more than 4 times in a day
  • the anti-diarrhoea drugs do not work within 24 hours.

Indigestion or tummy pain

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have indigestion. They can prescribe drugs to help reduce this. Some people may get pain in the upper tummy area. Tell your doctor if you have this.

Changes to your taste

You may get a bitter or metal taste in your mouth. Sucking sugar-free sweets may help with this. Some foods may taste different or have no taste. Try different foods to find out what tastes best to you. Taste changes usually get better after treatment finishes. Your nurse can give you more advice.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Do not worry if you do not eat much for a day or two. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, tell your nurse or dietitian. They will give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements.

Tiredness

Feeling tired is a common side effect. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy. If you feel sleepy, do not drive or operate machinery.

Headaches

This treatment may cause headaches. If this happens, tell your doctor or nurse. They can give you painkillers.

Sore mouth

You may get a sore mouth or mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth infection.

Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

If your mouth is sore:

  • tell your nurse or doctor – they can give you a mouthwash or medicines to help
  • try to drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid alcohol, tobacco, and foods that irritate your mouth.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. These cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, you may be tired and breathless. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel like this. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Risk of infection

This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection.

If the number of white blood cells is low, you are more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

If you have an infection, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have if:

  • your temperature goes over 37.5°C (99.5°F)
  • you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you have symptoms of an infection.

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery
  • a sore throat
  • a cough
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine often.

It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.

The number of white blood cells will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more treatment. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any bruising or bleeding that you can’t explain. This includes:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.

Rash

Olaparib may cause an itchy rash and the skin may become raised and red. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. They can give you advice on looking after your skin and creams that you can use.

Less common side effects of olaparib

Effects on the lungs

Rarely, this treatment can cause serious lung problems. Always tell your doctor if you develop:

  • wheezing
  • a cough
  • a fever
  • breathlessness.

You should also let them know if any existing breathing problems get worse. If necessary, they can arrange for you to have tests to check your lung health.

Other information

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect this treatment or be harmful when you are having it. This includes medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist. Tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking, including vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Vaccinations

Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about vaccinations. These help reduce your risk of getting infections.

Doctors usually recommend that you have a flu jab, which is an inactivated vaccination. People with weak immune systems can have this type of vaccination.

If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations such as shingles. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live vaccinations.

Fertility

Doctors do not yet know how this treatment may affect your fertility (the ability to get pregnant or make someone pregnant). If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor before your treatment starts.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or father a child while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. The drugs may harm the developing baby.

It is important to use effective contraception during your treatment. Olaparib may make hormonal contraceptives less effective. Talk to your nurse or doctor for more advice.

Breastfeeding

Women are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor so they can ask for advice.

If you think you need dental treatment, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Always tell your dentist you are having cancer treatment.

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