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Oral Chemotherapy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

Oral chemotherapy (chemo) is medicine used to shrink a tumor or kill cancer cells. Oral chemo is usually taken at home as a pill or liquid.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing.
  • Your throat feels swollen and you have trouble swallowing or breathing.
  • You cough up blood.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You feel confused or have a severe headache that does not go away.
  • You have arm or leg weakness, trouble walking, or trouble seeing.
  • You have a severe headache or severe pain anywhere in your body.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, painful, or looks bigger than usual.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.
  • Your heart is beating faster than usual.
  • You have blood in your urine or bowel movement.
  • You urinate a lot less than usual or stop urinating.
  • You vomit blood.

Call your doctor or oncologist if:

  • You have a fever of 100.5°F (38°C) or higher or chills.
  • You have bleeding from your gums.
  • You have nausea or vomiting and cannot take your chemo.
  • You vomit after you take your oral chemo.
  • You miss a dose of chemo.
  • You have sores or white spots in your mouth.
  • You have constipation or diarrhea for more than 1 day.
  • You feel depressed.
  • You have frequent, painful urination.
  • You have a cough that lasts more than a few days.
  • You have bruises on your body that are not caused by an injury or fall.
  • You have trouble affording your chemo medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


Show your healthcare provider a list of everything you currently take. Ask him or her if it is safe to take your regular medicines, vitamins, or supplements during chemo. Some may prevent chemo from working correctly. You may also need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help manage side effects of chemotherapy. This may include medicines to decrease nausea and vomiting, or to manage pain.
  • Antivirals may be given to prevent a hepatitis B infection, or to prevent an infection from becoming active again.
  • An antidepressant may be given to treat peripheral neuropathy (a nerve disorder) caused by chemo.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Side effects of chemo:

Chemo can damage healthy cells in your digestive system, bone marrow, and mouth. Chemo may also attack your hair follicles. This attack or damage is what causes side effects. You may or may not have side effects from chemo. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine to prevent certain side effects. Side effects may depend on the type of chemo that you are given. Common side effects of oral chemo include the following:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Hair loss, including loss of eyelashes, eyebrows, and body hair
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Poor appetite or changes in taste
  • Neuropathy (numbness, tingling, or pain) in your hands or feet that may go away between doses or worsens as treatment continues
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Dry skin, changes in skin color, or easy bruising
  • Weight loss or gain

Protect yourself and others during chemo treatment:

Chemo may damage healthy skin or tissue. Do the following to protect yourself and others from chemo:

  • Keep your chemo in the original package. Do not remove your chemo from the package until you are ready to take it. Do not put chemo in containers with other medicine that you take.
  • Wash your hands before and after you touch your chemo. This will help prevent infection. It will also decrease your risk for damage to your skin.
  • Wear gloves when you touch chemo. This will prevent damage or irritation to your skin. Do not let anyone touch your chemo without gloves. Ask your healthcare provider where to purchase gloves.
  • Store your chemo as directed. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist will tell you how to store your chemo. Read the package insert that comes with the chemo if you forget. Some medicines may need to be kept in the refrigerator. Keep your chemo out of reach of children and pets. Chemo medicine may cause serious harm to children and pets. If chemo can be kept out of a refrigerator, place it in a locked cabinet.
  • Bring unused medicine to your pharmacist. Chemo medicine can harm the environment. Your pharmacy can get rid of chemo correctly to prevent this harm. Do not throw your medicine in the trash or flush it down the sink or toilet.
  • Handle your body wastes and laundry as directed. Chemo leaves your body in your urine, bowel movement, vomit, spit, sweat, and tears. It may take up to 48 hours for chemo to leave your body. During this time you may need to follow directions to prevent exposing others to your body fluids. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
  • Do not let a pregnant woman touch your chemo or body fluids. Chemo may harm her unborn baby.


  • Rest as needed. You may feel tired for a few days after taking oral chemo. Return to activities slowly, and do more as you feel stronger.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eat small meals throughout the day. This may be easier than eating 3 large meals.
    Healthy Foods
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Liquids will help prevent dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Prevent infection. Stay away from people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and ask visitors to wash their hands. Ask family and friends not to visit if they are sick. Do not spend time in crowded places such as movie theaters, malls, or elevators. Ask your healthcare provider if you need vaccines.

  • Manage hair loss. Use mild shampoos if your hair begins to thin or fall out. Use a soft bristled brush to comb your hair. If you lose your hair, wash your scalp with moisturizing shampoos or conditioners. Apply lotion and massage your scalp after a shower. Use sunscreen, a hat, a scarf, or a wig to protect your scalp from the sun. Ask your healthcare provider where you can purchase a wig or hair piece.
  • Work with your healthcare provider to manage side effects. Always tell your healthcare provider if you have side effects. Take medicines that manage side effects as directed. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on how to manage certain side effects.

Follow up with your doctor or oncologist as directed:

You will need to see your oncologist for ongoing tests and treatment. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For more information:

It may be difficult for you and your family to go through cancer and cancer treatments. Join a support group or talk with others who have gone through treatment.

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:
  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

© Copyright Merative 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.