Recently a reader, who follows my column, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked me for my opinion about taking chemotherapy through a pill versus having it administered intravenously. I always make it clear that I never give medical advice to anyone; but what I can do is provide you with information so that you can have an informative conversation with your doctor. So I did some digging. You’ll see my references at the end of this column.
Oral chemotherapy can be taken at home either in pill or liquid form. The regimen can be daily, every two weeks or monthly depending on the type and stage of cancer. Whether you take a pill or liquid the same rules apply:
n 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.
n Wash your hands before you touch the chemo and wear gloves to prevent damage or infection to your skin.
n Store your chemo as directed by your pharmacist or doctor and above all read the inserts that come with the medication.
n Because of its toxicity, keep your chemo out of reach from children, pets or anyone in your house.
n Chemo can harm the environment so do not dispose of it in your garbage but rather bring it to your pharmacist.
n 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. Because chemo can cause harm to an unborn baby do not let a pregnant women come in contact with your chemo or body fluids like kissing or intercourse.
Now taking chemotherapy orally may give you the peace of mind of not having a needle stuck in your arm or undergoing surgery to have a port-a- cath put in; however there are more important things to consider. The side effects can be some or all of the following:
n Fatigue or weakness
n Hair loss, including loss of eyelashes, eyebrows, and body hair
n Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
n Poor appetite or changes in taste
n Numbness, tingling, and pain in your hands or feet
n Problems with memory or concentration
n Dry skin, changes in skin color, or easy bruising
n Weight loss or gain
Chemo may damage your kidneys, liver, heart, or other organs. You may have an allergic reaction to chemo. This may become life-threatening. Your risk for infection and bleeding are increased during chemo treatment. You may have problems getting pregnant or getting your partner pregnant after you have chemo. For this reason you may need to receive chemo a different way, such as through a blood vessel instead of by mouth. You may need more than one cycle of chemo to treat your cancer.
Another thing to be aware of is that oral chemotherapy is generally more expensive than intravenous, so always check with your insurance company.
Now you may notice the only difference between having oral or intravenous chemotherapy is the administration of it and the cost. Everything else is the same as far as side effects and potency. But please Warriors, don’t be discouraged from taking either chemotherapy if the doctor says it is necessary. I am grateful to be seventeen and a half years in remission from stage 3b breast cancer. I knew of all the above risks, but I was determined to “Fight like Hell”. I had multiple surgeries, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a collapse lung! The fact that I am writing this column assures me that I made the right decision at the time.
So I hope I gave you some food for thought. You now know the things you should discuss with your doctor. Knowledge is power. Never go into any situation blindly.
Bring on your questions and I’ll do the research. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Reach Inez Whitehead-Dickens at email@example.com.