Are At-Home Cancer Treatments Safe?


RALEIGH, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Chemotherapy is a lifesaving treatment for many cancer patients. It’s given intravenously over a period of hours. But many of us might not know that some cancers can be treated with oral chemotherapy, which has pills a patient takes at home. Now, a new study from Duke University shows despite the benefits for patients, at-home cancer treatments don’t always go as prescribed.

Deborah Tippett is a retired professor, world traveler, and ballroom dancer, and for the second time in 13 years, she’s battling cancer.

“Doctors found in a routine exam, a little abnormality, which they decided to test,” Tippett says.

When Tippett had lymphoma years ago, treatment meant trips to a clinic and IV chemo.

Tippett explains, “Sometimes, it would be 10 hours by the time I met with the doctor had my blood work, had the treatment.”

This time, Tippett’s doctor had a lab test her tumor for genetic mutations and found an oral anti-cancer treatment that could work for her ovarian cancer. Duke University GYN oncologist Brittany Davidson, MD studies cancer patients and how they fare with this treatment at home.

(Read Full Interview)

Dr. Davidson tells Ivanhoe, “Several of my partners said, ‘Well, it’s not going to be a problem. These patients have cancer, so, of course they’re going to take their treatment.’”

But in a survey of 100 cancer patients taking oral anti-cancer treatment, Dr. Davidson found 50 percent of patients took their medication exactly as prescribed —the right amount, at the exact time, under the correct conditions. But 25 percent missed at least one dose in a week, and another 25 percent missed more than one dose.

“This tells us that adherence is still a problem,” Dr. Davidson explains.

Earlier research suggested that side effects, patient support at home, and finances can all impact home treatment. Tippett and Dr. Davidson worked with the pharmaceutical company so she could afford her drug, Mekinist, and Tippett builds her day around medication time, so that she never misses a dose.

Tippett is back on her toes these days, feeling more like herself again.

“I’m just grateful to be living in a time where I could have all these options,” she expresses.

Dr. Davidson says there’s no research that shows what happens when patients are occasionally late or miss an oral dose. If patients miss many doses, the treatment might not work as effectively, and if doses are too close together, the side effects might be more severe.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #5131

BACKGROUND: Oral chemo is often done at home. For this reason, it is crucial to understand directly how and when these pills should be taken. The drugs are designed to work fast and kill cancer cells in the body. Doctors should give patients clear instruction on how to perform oral chemo. This includes proper dosage, times, and window of ingestion. The doses are set up for the duration of time it requires to be in your body and kill cancer cells. For this reason, they are given in periods of hours. Oral chemo is most commonly prescribed in swallowed pill form, liquid, or to be placed under the tongue to dissolve. These drugs can be expensive and are not always covered under health insurance. Oral chemotherapy is now comprised of up to twenty-five percent of chemotherapy drugs. at-home cancer treatments


DIAGNOSING: The dosage one needs will depend on the type of cancer being treated. The act of dosing incorrectly can cause harsh side effects. It is crucial to take the drug exactly as your doctor prescribes. If doses occur too close together, side effects can be detrimental. Like any chemotherapy, oral chemo is powerful. It kills healthy cancer cells, causing extreme side effects. Common ones include hair loss, skin changes, sores in the mouth, easy bruising, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and infection. It is important to keep a log of all side effects experienced and communicate with your doctor effectively.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: The recent development of smartphone technology is supporting adherence to oral chemotherapy. A main challenge in supporting/treating with oral chemotherapy, is the inability to properly monitor patients from home. A tool is needed to ensure patients properly take their medications at home the way doctors instruct. Smartphones now have apps that are guiding patients through their dosing procedures. Adherence to medications is improving as smartphone technology makes it more accessible to keep a scheduled timeframe on medications. Research has found that patients prefer short, standardized messages delivered through text message as an easy reminder of their daily doses.



Stephanie Lopez

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Brittany Davidson, MD, a GYN oncologist

Read the entire Q&A