Bexarotene (Targretin®), Oral Formulation

Last Modified: September 8, 2011

Pronounced: beks-AIR-oh-teen
Classification: Retinoid

About Bexarotene

Bexarotene belongs to a class of drugs known as retinoids. Retinoids are drugs that are relatives of vitamin A. The exact way bexarotene works is unknown, but it is believed to inhibit the growth of tumor cells.

How to Take Bexarotene

Bexarotene is given in a pill form or a gel form that is applied to the skin. The actual dose is based on your body size. Bexarotene should be taken with food, preferably at the same time each day, with a glass of water or juice. Grapefruit juice may interact with bexarotene and should be avoided.

Safety Considerations When Receiving Bexarotene:

  • Vitamin A supplements can worsen the side effects of bexarotene. The manufacturer recommends limiting vitamin A supplementation less than 15,000 IU/day, but you should discuss taking any vitamin supplements with your doctor BEFORE you take them.
  • Because of the extremely high risk that a deformed infant can result if pregnancy occurs while taking this medication, both men and women should not become pregnant (or father a child). Two methods of effective contraception are recommended for women of childbearing potential, unless absolute abstinence is the chosen method. Discuss with your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.

Possible Side Effects of Bexarotene

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of Bexarotene. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. This article addresses side effects from the oral form of this medication.

Skin Changes

Your skin may become dry, itchy or develop cracking. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun, which can result in severe sunburn or rash. Sun sensitivity can last even after you stop taking the medication. Avoid the sun as much as possible, as even a little exposure can cause a burn. Do not use a sunlamp or tanning bed. Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) everyday; wear sunglasses and long sleeves/pants to protect your skin and eyes. Use skin moisturizers and lip balm regularly. For more suggestions, read the Nail and Skin Care Tip Sheet.


Your doctor or nurse can recommend medication and other strategies to relive pain. Also view OncoLink's page on pain management.

Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)

Your doctor will perform blood tests to check the function of your thyroid. If your thyroid gland becomes under active, a medication will be prescribed to correct this problem.

Increased Cholesterol

The cholesterol levels in your blood may become elevated. Your doctor will do blood tests to monitor your cholesterol levels. If they do become elevated, a medication may be needed to lower it.

Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)

White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4 F), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.

Tips to preventing infection:

  • Washing hands, both yours and your visitors, is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Avoid large crowds and people who are sick (i.e.: those who have a cold, fever or cough or live with someone with these symptoms).
  • When working in your yard, wear protective clothing including long pants and gloves.
  • Do not handle pet waste.
  • Keep all cuts or scratches clean.
  • Shower or bath daily and perform frequent mouth care.
  • Do not cut cuticles or ingrown nails. You may wear nail polish, but not fake nails.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse before scheduling dental appointments or procedures.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse before you, or someone you live with, has any vaccinations.

For more suggestions, read the Neutropenia Tip Sheet.

Nausea and/or Vomiting

Take anti-nausea medications as prescribed. If you continue to have nausea or vomiting, notify your doctor or nurse so they can help you manage this side effect. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms. Read the Nausea & Vomiting Tip Sheet for more suggestions.

Call your doctor or nurse if you are unable to keep fluids down for more than 12 hours or if you feel lightheaded or dizzy at any time.

Loss or thinning of scalp and body hair (alopecia)

In rare cases hair may become thin, brittle, or fall out. The use of scarves, wigs, hats and hairpieces may help. You may want to use a soft hairbrush and a gentle or baby shampoo to avoid stress on your hair. Avoid hair dyes, perms, bleaches or hair spray. Hair generally starts to regrow soon after treatment is completed. Remember your hair helps keep you warm in cold weather, so a hat is particularly important in cold weather or to protect you from the sun.

Blood Sugar Changes in Diabetics

Diabetics may find that their blood sugar levels are higher and those patients who require insulin may require higher doses to control their blood sugar.


See OncoLink's section on fatigue for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.


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