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.

  • What precautions should I take with my oral chemotherapy at home?

    Oral chemotherapy is a very strong medicine. You will need special instructions on how to handle and dispose of it when you are finished.  Just because you take the medicine at home does not mean that it is safer than chemotherapy that is given in the vein.  

    The cancer care team at Henry Ford knows that it is a big change to start oral chemotherapy medicine at home. They have made a helpful handout for patients to learn how to handle their oral chemotherapy medicines at home.  

    Always make sure that you understand the directions that you are given.  It is important to follow these directions exactly to make sure that you and your family stay safe while oral chemotherapy is in your home.

  • What side effects can I expect from oral chemotherapy?

    Oral chemotherapy medicines have many of the same side effects as chemotherapy that is given through the vein. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through these side effects with you when you start your oral chemotherapy medicine.  

    Each oral chemotherapy medicine affects a patient differently and may have different side effects. You should make sure to get all of your questions answered and know what to expect from your oral chemotherapy medicine before you start taking it. There are many other medicines that you can be given by your doctor to make sure that you can control the side effects from your oral chemotherapy medicine.

    Always have a plan on what to do if you experience any side effects from your oral chemotherapy. Know what side affects you can manage at home and what you need to see your doctor for.  Keep important contact information for your doctor in a safe place so that you can call if you have any questions. If you feel badly and want to stop taking your oral chemotherapy medicine, contact your doctor first before stopping. They can guide you on what to do and help you manage your symptoms.

    Please see the supportive care management tab below for more resources on common chemotherapy side effects.

  • Are there any resources at Henry Ford to help me with my oral chemotherapy?

    Starting oral chemotherapy can be a big change. The person taking the oral chemotherapy and their family will need to learn a lot of new information and this can be scary.  

    Henry Ford Cancer at Henry Ford Hospital has a special program to help patients that are taking certain kinds of oral chemotherapy drugs.  

    This program includes a team of pharmacists and nurses that are trained experts in oral chemotherapy medicines. They work very close with you to make sure that you are taking your oral chemotherapy medicine in the best way possible.  

    The clinical pharmacist and nurse will meet with you when you start your oral chemotherapy medicine to make sure you understand the directions. They will also call you on the phone to check on you and see if you have any questions or need help with your oral chemotherapy medicine.

    The Oral Chemotherapy Management Team is available Monday - Friday from 8:00 AM through 4:00 PM, except on holidays.  

    Oral Chemotherapy Management Program (OCMP) Locations

    • Columbus Center, Novi
    • Cottage, Grosse Pointe Farms
    • Downriver, Brownstown
    • Fairlane, Dearborn
    • K13, Detroit campus

    If you have any very urgent problems or serious side effects, call 911 or go to the Emergency Room. 

  • How do I get my oral chemotherapy medicine?

    Oral chemotherapy drugs can cost a lot of money. They are filled at a pharmacy like other medicines that you take. Oral chemotherapy medicines usually do not have a generic version, which can mean a higher copay.  Be sure to know the cost for each treatment before you start.  

    The pharmacist can help work with your insurance company to make sure that the oral chemotherapy medicine is covered for you. If it is not covered, they can work with you, the doctor and your insurance company to find the best option for you.

    If you cannot afford your oral chemotherapy medicine, or if your insurance changes, it is very important to discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist as soon as you can.  You should not stop treatment with your oral chemotherapy medicine if possible without letting your care team know.

    Since oral chemotherapy can be very expensive and needs a lot of follow up, it can be hard to find at a pharmacy near your home. You may need to use specialty pharmacy to fill these medicines.

    These pharmacies specialize in having medicines, like oral chemotherapy, that many other pharmacies don’t carry. They also have a lot of experience caring for patients with cancer and are a good resource for questions.  

Take the next step

Let us help you schedule an appointment, call (800) 436-7936.


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