Niraparib (Zejula™)

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: July 27, 2017

Pronounced: Nir-a-puh-rib

Classification: PARP Inhibitor

About Niraparib (Zejula™)

Niraparib is a poly (adenosine diphosphate [ADP]-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor. Cancers related to BRCA 1 or 2 mutations seem to rely on PARP to repair damaged DNA in cancer cells, allowing them to continue to divide. By inhibiting PARP, tumor growth may be slowed or stopped.

How to Take Niraparib

Niraparib is a capsule taken by mouth once a day. The typical dose is 300mg daily. Take the capsule whole. You should not open, crush, break, or chew the capsules. If you miss a dose, do not take two doses to make up for a missed dose. If you vomit after taking your dose, do not take another dose. Take the next dose at its normally scheduled time. Consult with your pharmacist or provider if you are having trouble swallowing the medication.

The capsules are 100mg each, meaning you will need to take a number of capsules to achieve the full dose. It is important to make sure you are taking the correct amount of medication every time. Before every dose, check that what you are taking matches what you have been prescribed.

This medication can affect your blood counts. These levels will be checked by a blood test before starting treatment with nirapraib and then once a week for one month and then once a month for eleven months.

Storage and Handling

Store your medication in the original, labeled container at room temperature and in a dry location (unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider or pharmacist). This medication should not be stored in a pillbox. Keep containers out of reach of children and pets.

If a caregiver prepares your dose for you, they should consider wearing gloves or pour the pills directly from their container into the cap, a small cup, or directly into your hand. They should avoid touching the pills. They should always wash their hands before and after giving you the medication. Pregnant or nursing women should not prepare the dose for you. Ask your oncology team where to return any unused medication for disposal. Do not flush down the toilet or throw in the trash.

Where do I get this medication?

Certain cancer medications are only available through specialty pharmacies. If you need to get this medication through a specialty pharmacy, your provider will help you start this process. Where you can fill your prescriptions may also be influenced by your pharmaceutical insurance coverage. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist for assistance in identifying where you can get this medication.

Insurance Information

This medication may be covered under your prescription drug plan. Patient assistance may be available to qualifying individuals depending upon prescription drug coverage. Co-pay cards, which reduce the patient co-pay responsibility for eligible commercially (non-government sponsored) insured patients, may also be available. Your care team can help you find these resources, if they are available.

Possible Side Effects of Niraparib

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of niraparib. Talk to your care team about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common or important side effects: 

Nausea and/or Vomiting

Talk to your oncology care team so they can prescribe medications to help you manage nausea and vomiting. 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 saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms.

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

Fatigue

Fatigue is very common during cancer treatment and is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that is not usually relieved by rest. While on cancer treatment, and for a period after, you may need to adjust your schedule to manage fatigue. Plan times to rest during the day and conserve energy for more important activities. Exercise can help combat fatigue; a simple daily walk with a friend can help. Talk to your healthcare team for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.

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), 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.

Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)

Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues in your body. When the red cell count is low, you may feel tired or weak. You should let your doctor or nurse know if you experience any shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or pain in your chest. If the count gets too low, you may receive a blood transfusion.

Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)

Platelets help your blood clot, so when the count is low you are at a higher risk of bleeding. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any excess bruising or bleeding, including nose bleeds, bleeding gums or blood in your urine or stool. If the platelet count becomes too low, you may receive a transfusion of platelets.

  • Do not use a razor (an electric razor is fine).
  • Avoid contact sports and activities that can result in injury or bleeding.
  • Do not take aspirin (salicylic acid), non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Motrin®, Aleve®, Advil®, etc. as these can all increase the risk of bleeding. Unless your healthcare team tells you otherwise, you may take acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Do not floss or use toothpicks and use a soft-bristle toothbrush to brush your teeth.

Constipation

There are several things you can do to prevent or relieve constipation. Include fiber in your diet (fruits and vegetables), drink 8-10 glasses of non-alcoholic fluids a day, and keep active. A stool softener once or twice a day may prevent constipation. If you do not have a bowel movement for 2-3 days, you should contact your healthcare team for suggestions to relieve the constipation

Muscle or Joint Pain/Aches and Headache

Your healthcare provider can recommend medication and other strategies to relieve pain.

Decrease in Appetite & Changes in Taste

Nutrition is an important part of your care. Cancer treatment can affect your appetite and, in some cases, the side effects of treatment can make eating difficult. Ask your nurse about nutritional counseling services at your treatment center to help with food choices.

  • Try to eat five or six small meals or snacks throughout the day, instead of 3 larger meals.
  • If you are not eating enough, nutritional supplements may help.
  • You may experience a metallic taste or find that food has no taste at all. You may dislike foods or beverages that you liked before receiving cancer treatment. These symptoms can last for several months or longer after treatment ends.
  • Avoid any food that you think smells or tastes bad. If red meat is a problem, eat chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products and fish without a strong smell. Sometimes cold food has less of an odor.
  • Add extra flavor to meat or fish by marinating it in sweet juices, sweet and sour sauce or dressings. Use seasonings like basil, oregano or rosemary to add flavor. Bacon, ham and onion can add flavor to vegetables.

Liver Toxicity

This medication can cause liver toxicity, which your oncology care team may monitor for using blood tests called liver function tests. Notify your healthcare provider if you notice yellowing of the skin or eyes, your urine appears dark or brown, or you have pain in your abdomen, as these can be signs of liver toxicity

Insomnia

Insomnia is a change in sleep and can include not being able to sleep or difficulty falling or staying asleep. This medication can cause or worsen pre-existing insomnia. Inform your healthcare provider if you are experiencing changes in your sleep.

Less common, but important side effects can include:

  • Cardiac Issues: This medication can cause high blood pressure and heart palpitations. Your blood pressure and heart rate will be monitored frequently. If you have symptoms such as headache, dizziness, feeling like your heart is racing, skipping a beat or fluttering.
  • Secondary Malignancies: There is a low risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML) when taking this medication. You will have blood tests done frequently to monitor your blood cell counts. Tell your healthcare provider if you are having any of the following side effects: weakness, weight loss, fever, frequent infections, blood in urine or stool, shortness of breath, feeling very tired, bruising or bleeding easily.

Reproductive Concerns

Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment and for at least 6 months after treatment. Even if your menstrual cycle stops, you could still be fertile and conceive. You should not breastfeed while taking this medication or for one month after your last dose. 

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