Olaparib (Lynparza®)

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

What is olaparib?

Olaparib (Lynparza®) is a targeted therapy drug used to treat some types of ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer that have come back after other treatments. It may sometimes be used to treat other cancers. It is best to read this information with our general information about the type of cancer you have. 

Olaparib belongs to a group of targeted therapy drugs known as cancer growth inhibitors. Olaparib is also known as a PARP inhibitor. PARPs are proteins that help damaged cells repair themselves.

Olaparib blocks (inhibits) how PARP proteins work. Without PARP proteins, cancer cells may become too damaged to survive and die. 

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. 

Olaparib can be given on its own or in combination with other cancer drugs.  During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a cancer nurse or 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. This is to check that your kidneys are working and that your blood cells are at a safe level to have treatment. 

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have treatment. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your targeted therapy. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready.

Taking olaparib capsules

How you take olaparib 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, 12 hours apart. 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 the drug 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.

Other things to remember about your capsules or tablets:

  • Wash your hands after taking your tablets or capsules.
  • Other people should avoid direct contact with the drugs. 
  • Olaparib tablets should be kept in the original package and at room temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Olaparib capsules should be kept in the original package in the fridge but do not let them freeze.
  • Keep them safe and out of sight and reach of children.
  • If you are sick just after taking the capsules or tablets, contact the hospital. Do not take another dose.
  • If your treatment is stopped, return any unused capsules or tablets to the pharmacist.

Your course of treatment

You keep taking Olaparib for as long as your doctor tells you. Do not stop taking it without talking to your doctor. Your nurse, pharmacist or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.

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.

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 can prescribe anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist tells you. If you feel sick, take small sips of fluids often and eat small amounts regularly. It is important to drink enough fluids. 

If you continue to feel sick or are sick (vomit) more than once in 24 hours, contact the hospital as soon as possible. They will give you advice. Your doctor or nurse may change the anti-sickness drug to one that works better for you.

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is usual for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual. 

If you have diarrhoea or a mild increase in stoma activity: 

  • tell your cancer doctor or nurse straight away so it can be treated quickly.
  • follow any advice from your cancer team about taking anti-diarrhoea drugs
  • drink at least 2 litres (31/2 pints) of fluids each day
  • 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 
  • you have a moderate or severe increase in stoma activity 
  • the anti-diarrhoea drugs do not work within 24 hours.

Tummy pain or indigestion

You may get pain in the upper tummy area. You may also get indigestion. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help improve these symptoms. Tell them if the pain does not improve or gets worse.

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. 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 you have headaches, tell your doctor. They may give you painkillers to help.

Dizziness

You may feel dizzy during this treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if this is difficult to cope with. If you feel dizzy, do not drive or operate machinery.

Sore mouth and throat

This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

If your mouth or throat 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 and throat.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may have symptoms such as:

  • pale skin
  • lack of energy
  • feeling breathless
  • feeling dizzy and light-headed.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.

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 sometimes called neutropenia.

An infection can be very serious when the number of white blood cells is low. It is important to get any infection treated as soon as possible. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given 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
  • your temperature goes below 36°C (96.8°F).

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery and shaking
  • a sore throat
  • a cough
  • breathlessness
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine (pee) a lot, or discomfort when you pass urine.

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

You will have regular blood tests during treatment. If needed, your doctor may reduce or delay your treatment for a short time, until your cell count increases.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.

If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • heavy periods
  • blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
  • tiny red or purple spots on the skin that may look like a rash.

Tell your doctor if you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding. You may need a drip to give you extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.

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

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Contact the hospital straight away if you notice any of these changes:

  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • a fever, with a temperature over 37.5°C (99.5°F).

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.

Second cancer

Some cancer drugs can increase the risk of developing other types of cancer or leukaemia later in life. This is rare. Your doctors will consider the small increase in risk of this happening against the benefit of the drug in treating your cancer.

Other information

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Symptoms of a blood clot include:

  • throbbing pain, redness or swelling in a leg or arm
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing
  • sharp chest pain, which may be worse when you cough or take a deep breath.

If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour contact number you have been given. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs that thin the blood (anticoagulants). Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

You can help reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by:

  • staying active during treatment
  • drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.

You may be given anticoagulants to help prevent a clot.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful when you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as:

  • medicines you have been prescribed
  • medicines you buy in a shop or chemist
  • vitamins, herbal drugs and complementary therapies.

Tell other doctors, pharmacists or dentists who prescribe or give you medicines that you are having this cancer treatment.

You can visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) for more detailed information about your treatment.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations can reduce your risk of getting certain infections. Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about having vaccinations.

Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have a flu vaccination and a coronavirus vaccination. These are both inactivated vaccinations that can help reduce the risk of infection. People with weak immune systems can have these, as they are not live vaccinations.

If your immune system is weak, you need to avoid live vaccinations. This is because they can make you unwell. Live vaccines, such as shingles, contain a very weak version of the illness they are vaccinating you against. Your cancer doctor or GP can tell you more about live and inactivated vaccinations.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception during your treatment and for a while after treatment finishes. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can tell you more about this.

Olaparib may make hormonal contraceptives less effective. If you take the pill or another hormonal contraceptive, talk to your nurse or doctor for more advice.

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment finishes. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk.

Your doctor or nurse can give you more information.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses 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.