Oral Chemotherapy

What is oral chemotherapy?

“Oral chemotherapy” is any medicine, usually a pill or a liquid, that you take by mouth to treat cancer. It works in a very similar way to the chemotherapy that you might get through the vein at the clinic (“IV chemotherapy”).  The benefit to oral chemotherapy is that it can be taken at home.  Sometimes, oral chemotherapy can be combined with IV chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy you take by mouth is just as strong as the chemotherapy that you get in the vein. The medicine will be given to you in “cycles,” or “rounds,” just like chemotherapy in the vein to make sure that your body has time to recover.  

Even though you take the medicine at home, you will still need blood work regularly. You will also still need to follow up with your cancer care team on a regular basis. When meeting with your care team, you should make sure that you have clear directions from you doctor, nurse or pharmacist on how and when to take your oral chemotherapy. It is important to make sure that you understand and follow these directions exactly.  

Taking your oral chemotherapy just as you are told will make sure that it has the most benefit and the least chance for unwanted side effects.  

Some examples of questions you should ask your doctor:

  • The name and dose of the medicine you are taking
  • When you should take it 
  • How many times a day you should take it
  • Whether you take the medicine with or without meals
  • What you should do if you miss a dose
  • The most common side effects that you can expect
  • When you should go to the emergency department or call 911

Do not make any dose changes or stop taking your oral chemotherapy medicine unless your doctor, nurse or pharmacist tells you to, even if you start to feel better.  If you forget to take any doses of your oral chemotherapy medicine, make sure to write it down and tell your care team at your next visit.


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