By Thomas Kochanek, PhD
When we think of chemotherapy, most of us imagine a cancer patient hooked up to an IV in a hospital setting, getting his or her treatment through infusion. While this image is accurate, cancer treatment increasingly takes place at home, as patients receive oral chemotherapy or other types of anti-cancer drugs through pills, tablets, and liquids.
Infusion and oral chemo are not necessarily mutually exclusive, either. Many patients begin with one and transition to the other; others, like me, are on several drugs, receiving one by infusion and another by pill.
Since I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012, I’ve received chemotherapy and other anti-cancer drugs through infusion, injections into my abdomen, and tablets taken at home, as part of routine treatment and clinical trials.
The greatest advantage to oral chemotherapy is obvious: you don’t have to go into the hospital. You are in the comfort of your own home, with no long commute, no long waits, and less time off from work.
But the side effects can be just as serious, and oral chemo places greater responsibility on the patient. You have to follow a schedule, keep track of your side effects, and know when to call your doctor.
Although going into the hospital is less convenient, you are under the watchful eye of your doctor and nurse. At home, you are left to your own devices.
Advice for patients on oral chemo
- Be inquisitive before you begin. For example, I wanted to know if the pills would be just as effective as infusion, and if my insurance would cover it.
- Be a good observer, reporter, and record-keeper. Keep a diary and record your side effects as soon as you experience them.
- Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any questions or if you make a mistake, such as forgetting to take your pill at the right time.
Thomas Kochanek, PhD, is a Professor Emeritus within the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development at Rhode Island College. He is also a member of Dana-Farber’s Patient and Family Advisory Council.