Oral chemotherapy: balancing convenience with medication risks

Oral chemotherapy is used for the treatment of cancer as well as autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Although some of these medicines can be taken by mouth, there are still serious risks that health professionals, patients and carers need to be aware of, writes Christine Carrington, Senior consultant pharmacist at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane.

In some cases these medicines can be taken at home, however there is a need to monitor the treatment to ensure it is safe and effective.

Writing in the February edition of Australian Prescriber, Christine Carrington says that the safe delivery of oral chemotherapy, whether for the treatment of cancer or other conditions, requires collaboration between a group of health professionals and the patient (or carer).

“Serious toxicities and fatal outcomes can occur if the dose instructions are not followed. Written and verbal information about dose instructions, side effects, handling and storage of these medicines is essential,” writes the author.

“It’s essential that a clear treatment plan is written by the treating specialist and shared with the patient and carer as well as with other health professionals. Chemotherapy is well known to cause side effects such as infections, nausea, vomiting, kidney and liver damage. Patients and carers should be informed about how to manage these and know when to contact their doctor.”  

Other articles in this issue look at calcium and the risk of heart disease, and the use of lithium for bipolar disorder. See the full article and others at www.australianprescriber.com


Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals, particularly doctors in general practice. It is published every two months and distributed to health professionals free of charge, and is also available online at www.australianprescriber.com 

Media enquiries: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or schilds@nps.org.au