Skip to Content

Oral Chemotherapy


What is oral chemotherapy?

Oral chemotherapy (chemo) is a treatment used to shrink a tumor or kill cancer cells. Oral chemo is usually taken in the form of a pill or capsule.

What do I need to know about oral chemotherapy?

Oral chemo may be right for some people, but not for others. Oral chemo needs to be taken as instructed by your caregiver. It may have side effects. Oral chemo may be right for you if:

  • You come to your scheduled follow-up appointments.
  • You are able to take oral medicines without problems.
  • You know how and when to take your medicine.
  • You understand your illness and report any side effects from the medicine.
  • You have family members or friends who can help you with your medicine as needed.
  • The medicine will not interfere with other health conditions.
  • You discuss any questions or concerns with your caregiver.

How do I use oral chemotherapy?

Follow the instructions given by your caregiver. He will tell your how and when to take your medicine. Take it exactly as your caregiver tells you to. A trained caregiver may visit you at home after you have started using oral chemo. You may also need to see your caregiver for a short time after you start oral chemo.

How long will I need to use oral chemotherapy?

The type of cancer you have will determine how long you will need to receive chemo. You may be given more than one medicine at a time. You may take oral chemo daily, weekly, or once to twice a month. Chemo is often given in cycles over a period of several months or more. This means that you will get the medicine for a period of time, and then you will have a break from it. This allows your body to grow new, healthy cells.

What tests may I need while I use oral chemotherapy?

You may need the following tests to monitor how the chemo is working. The tests can also show how your body is handling the chemo:

  • Blood tests: These may be done to check your blood count or to check the function of your organs. Your blood may also be tested for signs of infection.
  • Chest x-ray: This picture of your heart and lungs shows the size and location of the cancer.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures that show the size, shape, and location of the tumor. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

What are the risks of oral chemotherapy?

You may have a severe reaction to oral chemo. Chemo may increase your risk of an infection. Chemo can permanently harm your organs. You may need to receive chemo a different way, such as through a blood vessel instead of by mouth. The chemo may not kill all the cancer cells, and the cancer could spread. You may get a new cancer. Without treatment, the cancer may spread to other parts of your body and become life-threatening.

How can I care for myself during and after oral chemotherapy?

  • Work with your caregiver to manage side effects: You may have side effects, such as pain, nausea, or vomiting. Follow your caregiver's instructions on how to reduce these symptoms.
  • 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. Several small meals a day may be easier to eat than a few large meals.
  • Stay away from people who are sick: This decreases your risk of getting an infection. Ask for more instructions about how to prevent infections.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea, vomiting, or no appetite for several days.
  • You are very tired and have no energy for several days.
  • You notice sores or white spots in your mouth.
  • You have constipation or diarrhea for more than one day.
  • You are depressed.
  • You feel like your heart is beating very fast.
  • You have frequent, painful urination.
  • You have a cough that is new or that does not go away.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing.
  • You feel confused or have a severe headache that does not go away.
  • You have arm or leg weakness, trouble walking, or trouble seeing.
  • Your pain increases.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, painful, or swells.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.