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What is Oral Chemotherapy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 January 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Oral chemotherapy is chemotherapy treatment for cancer delivered by mouth in the form of tablets or liquids. Not all medications used for chemotherapy are available in an oral format and not all patients are good candidates for oral chemotherapy. When a treatment plan is developed for a patient with cancer, the various treatment options, as well as delivery methods, will be discussed so patients can make an informed choice about how to proceed.

There are some distinct advantages to oral chemotherapy. Sometimes, the chemotherapy can be taken at home, rather than under supervision in the hospital, allowing patients to undergo cancer treatment in more comfort and creating less disruption to a patient's schedule. In addition, taking drugs by mouth is often more comfortable than having medications administered intravenously or by other delivery methods, especially for long courses of chemotherapy.

Problems with oral chemotherapy can include the risk of disturbing dosages by vomiting. Chemotherapy medications are very strong, and if a patient swallows a pill and vomits it up before it is completely digested, it is usually not advisable to simply take another, as the patient has already received some of the medication. Patients may also vomit and not realize that they didn't absorb all their medication. In addition, some cancers make it difficult for patients to swallow comfortably, making oral delivery of medication unpleasant or unfeasible.

While some oral chemotherapy can be delivered at home, other medications must be administered in a hospital setting. With radioactive drugs, patients may need to be isolated until they stop emitting dangerous levels of radiation. With other chemotherapy medications, there may be concerns about adverse side effects, and patients could need to be monitored after taking the medication for signs of complications. Administration in a hospital can be difficult for patients, as they need to make time for appointments and arrange for transport, and may be feeling unwell on the day of a scheduled chemotherapy session.

Generally, when oral chemotherapy can be used at home and it is a safe option for the patient, the doctor will recommend home administration, although the first dose may need to be taken under supervision in case the patient experiences an immediate adverse reaction. Patients who take medications at home need to make sure they are stored in a controlled location out of reach of children and pets, and they should advise adults that the medication is dangerous. It is also critical to take the medication precisely as directed, and to call a doctor if adverse effects are experienced.

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