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Overview

Overview of Oral Oncology Medications

Oral oncology medications treat different forms of cancer. You may take them by mouth as tablets, capsules or liquid. Oral oncology medications may give you more control over your treatment and more time for your daily work and social activities. They may also remove the travel time and costs associated with an infusion clinic. Plus, oral oncology medications may lower your chance of infection or pain from having an IV line placed in you during infusion therapy.

What are the keys to successful oral oncology medication treatment?

Understand the risks and benefits of oral oncology medications.

Knowing the status of your condition and the importance of taking your medication as directed will help you take control of your therapy. Missing treatment will affect your results.

Tell your doctor, pharmacist and Health Coach what medications you are taking.

This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements.

Have ongoing dialogs with your doctor, pharmacist and Health Coach.

Taking part in your treatment plan can be a very empowering experience for you.

Properly store your medication.

Check with your doctor, pharmacist or Health Coach for how to keep your medication safe. The same goes if you have to dispose of it. Don’t throw your oral oncology medications in the trash or anywhere that leads to a public water supply (such as down the sink or toilet). Any unused medication should be returned to your doctor’s office.

Follow a routine to track when to take your medication therapy.

Check with your pharmacist if you can use a daily or weekly pillbox organizer. Some medications should be kept in their original containers.

Set a reminder to take your medication.

Create an alarm on your cell phone so you take your medications as scheduled.

Keep a medication diary.

This practice is extremely useful in planning for a successful chemotherapy experience. Make sure to track your dose, how and when it is taken, and special instructions (such as with food). Also note the following:

  • Side effects. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or Health Coach quickly, as certain side effects can be serious.
  • Contact numbers for your oncology team and Health Coach.
  • Missed doses. Contact your doctor or pharmacist for instructions.
  • Upcoming doctor appointments, lab tests and refills. Write down any questions you may want to ask at those appointments.

Access support systems.

Friends, family, your doctor, pharmacist and Health Coach are all there to guide and support you. Your references and links page lists other sources of support available to you. Bringing a friend or family member to office visits can be helpful as well.

Find ways to lower stress.

Meditation, yoga, walking or light exercise (with approval from your doctor), or simply a warm bath may help relieve stress.

Maintain healthy habits.

Plan rest periods into your day, and eat a well-balanced diet. Also avoid alcohol and smoking. How you care for your body can affect how well your body recovers from oral oncology treatment.

What are the serious and common side effects of oral oncology medications?

Although some side effects of oral oncology medications are fleeting and minor, others signal potentially serious problems. Alert your doctor right away if you suffer from any of the following symptoms during chemotherapy treatment:

  • A fever of 100.5° or greater
  • Bleeding or unexplained bruising
  • A rash or allergic reaction, such as swelling, severe itching, or wheezing
  • Intense chills
  • Unusual pain, including intense headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Prolonged diarrhea or vomiting
  • Blood in your stool or urine
  • Darkening of urine

Blood Problems

Chemotherapy can change the amount of certain blood cells you have in your body. This includes red blood cells, white blood cells and platelet cells. Not having enough red blood cells is called anemia, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. Having low white blood cells is called neutropenia and can raise your risk of infections. If your blood is not clotting well or if you bruise more easily, you may have low platelet function. Your doctor can prescribe medications for these conditions.

Your doctor should perform blood tests on you regularly to monitor these blood cell levels and find any problems early. Some chemotherapy medications can accumulate in the liver and kidneys, so your doctor may also want to test your kidney and liver functions.

Diarrhea or constipation
You may have loose stools or hard bowel movements during chemotherapy. Let your caregiver know if you have diarrhea four times in any 24-hour period or if you have not moved your bowels for several days.

Fever

Although having a fever is common with certain oral oncology medications agents, your doctor should still be alerted right away if it is a fever of 100.5° or greater. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you may take any fever reducers.

Upset stomach/reflux

Check with your doctor, pharmacist or Health Coach before taking over-the- counter medications. These medications can interact with your chemotherapy and make them less effective.

Fatigue

After chemotherapy, you may feel very tired. This can happen over time or suddenly. Fatigue can occur for days, weeks or months.

Flu-like symptoms

You may have chills, a fever, or muscle and joint aches for a few days after starting chemotherapy.

Hair loss

Hair loss may occur anywhere on your body. It can happen at the start of therapy or several weeks later. It will usually grow back after you finish your treatment.

Mouth sores and throat problems

Discuss treatments with your doctor or pharmacist if you get sores in your mouth, have difficulty swallowing and/ or develop white patches in the throat. Maintain good oral hygiene and use alcohol-free mouthwash. Your doctor can prescribe certain oral rinses that provide relief.

Nausea and vomiting

This is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Your doctor can help ease these symptoms with several medications. Contact him or her if you vomit more than once in a 24-hour period or if you also have diarrhea.

Nerve and muscle problems

These issues are called peripheral neuropathy. Chemotherapy can cause your nerves to hurt, feel weak, burn or tingle, especially in your hands and feet. These symptoms often go away after chemotherapy ends, but they may be permanent. Tell your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms. Certain medications can help decrease the effects of peripheral neuropathy.

Pain

Chemotherapy may cause painful side effects. Tell your doctor about any pain that does not go away or gets worse.

Poor appetite

You may not feel like eating during chemotherapy treatment. Ask your doctor what you can do to maintain a healthy diet. Some medications can help increase appetite if needed.

Problems with memory or mood

Chemotherapy can often leave you feeling depressed or confused. Talk to your family, friends, and your doctor and or Health Coach. They can suggest ways to help you cope with your treatment. They can also recommend medications you can take along with counseling.

Sexual problems

Chemotherapy can affect sexual organs. Women’s periods may change or stop completely. They may also have vaginal dryness, which may cause pain during intercourse. They may also experience “hot flashes,” or warmth that spreads through the body suddenly due to hormones. Women should not undergo chemotherapy if they are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or breastfeeding. Men may have trouble achieving or sustaining an erection. Both men and women may be unable to have a child after chemotherapy.

Skin problems

Dry skin often occurs with chemotherapy. A rash is also a common reaction, as is itching, redness and sensitivity to the sun. Your nails may also peel, become yellow or cracked.

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