Oral Chemotherapy at Home

Published: September 09, 2021
By Angela M. Raymond, PharmD
Jacqueline Olin
By Jacqueline L. Olin, PharmD, BCPS, CPP, CDE

There are many different types of cancer, and a range of medications may be used for treatment. Cancer medications, called chemotherapy, come in several different forms. Some cancer medications, called oral chemotherapy, may be taken by mouth. This includes tablets, capsules, or liquids. Other types of chemotherapy must be given at a doctor’s office by injection. It is important to talk with your doctor to determine the best type of chemotherapy for you.

What are the benefits of oral chemotherapy?
One of the greatest benefits of oral chemotherapy is that it can be taken at home. Oral chemotherapy may need to be taken every day, or as prescribed by your doctor. Your doctor will still request appointments frequently to monitor how you are doing, but you will spend much less time at the clinic.

What should patients pay attention to?

  • Take oral chemotherapy exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Read the label. Do not stop taking it unless instructed to do so.
  • Take oral chemotherapy at the same time every day.
  • Ask your pharmacist if you need to take your oral chemotherapy with food.
  • Be sure to know in advance what to do if you miss a dose. Some oral chemotherapy medications have very specific instructions about when to take missed doses.
  • Each oral chemotherapy has different side effects. Talk with your healthcare team about your medication to determine what you can expect and when you should contact them if you have these effects.
  • Your cancer health care team will talk to you about your oral chemotherapy and give you handouts with more information. You and your loved ones should have the information available if you have any questions. Be sure to ask your team if you have any questions.
  • Before you start any new medications that are prescribed by another doctor, or if you buy herbal or over-the-counter medications, call your cancer health care team to make sure it is safe for you.

Safe handling and storage of oral chemotherapy
Be careful when handling oral chemotherapy medications. Try to avoid contact with skin and use gloves when handling the medication. Wash your hands before taking it, and then wash your hands afterward. Do not cut tablets or crush them to add to food unless your doctor or pharmacist says it is safe. Keep out of reach of children and store in a cool, dry place unless the label says otherwise. Do not touch the oral chemotherapy products if you are pregnant.

When should you contact your health care provider?
You should make sure to have your cancer doctor’s and pharmacist’s contact numbers readily available for any issues that may arise. If you need clarification, have a question, or are experiencing a side effect, please give them a call. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Fever of 100.4° F or higher, chills
  • Four-to-six diarrhea episodes in a 24-hour period
  • Any new symptom

Oral chemotherapy is a very convenient, new way to treat cancer. By working closely with your cancer health care team, oral chemotherapy can be taken safely at home to treat your cancer.

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