Cancer is a complex condition. Many medication regimens are complicated with serious side effects.
Cancer patients receive a lot of information when they visit their oncologist. This – combined with the overall stress of managing their condition – can make it difficult to remember all the details about their medication regimen. Given the complexity of treatment, they often have additional questions.
Managing the Condition
The specially trained pharmacists and nurses in the Express Scripts Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center (TRC) have disease-specific training and expertise and are focused on helping members who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions our oncology team answers daily:
Will my oncology medication affect other medications I am taking?
Many oncology medications have significant drug interactions with other medications. Depending on the interaction, the blood levels of an oncology medication can be decreased and, as a result, not be as effective. On the other hand, certain combinations may increase the levels of the medication and make a patient more susceptible to side effects without any added benefit. Drug interactions can potentially be very dangerous for a patient, so it is important to talk to an oncologist or someone with clinical expertise. Remember to tell your physicians and pharmacists all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.
Will my medication cure my cancer?
It completely depends on a patient’s type of cancer and specific treatment. There are four different goals with cancer treatment – cure, remission, control or palliation. For most cancers, it is only possible to achieve remission, or “a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer.” Some oncology medications are used to halt the progression of the cancer. Palliative treatment is simply used to relieve symptoms of the cancer and make the patient feel better. Every treatment is different, so it is important to talk to your oncologist about the goals of treatment.
Can I take this medication with food?
Some medications are best absorbed in the stomach when there is food present, while others are best absorbed on an empty stomach. How someone should take his medication is entirely dependent on the therapy prescribed. Oncology treatment regimens are complicated, so it is recommended to always consult with a physician or a pharmacist to figure out a medication schedule that works for you.
Will I have to take this medication for a long time?
Depending on the goal of treatment, patients might take a medication for a short amount of time, but it also is possible that it will need to be taken for the rest of a patient’s life or as long as it is working.
Will I experience a particular side effect that is listed in my medication guide?
During clinical trials, drug manufacturers are required to list every side effect that participants experience. Some side effects are more likely than others, but that does not mean that every patient will experience a certain side effect. For some cancer medications, some side effects indicate that the medication is working. The Oncology TRC pharmacists and nurses are available to help you develop a plan to prevent and manage side effects.
Are there any unusual side effects from oncology medications?
Some oncology medications cause a side effect known as hand-foot syndrome. This is the result of medication leaking out of the capillaries in the hands or feet and damaging surrounding tissues. It is characterized by redness, swelling and pain on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. Prevention of hand-foot syndrome includes avoiding heat and friction on the hands and feet. The following tips may help:
- Limit contact with hot water. Take cooler showers or baths and gently pat yourself dry instead of vigorously toweling off.
- Avoid skin contact with chemicals, such as those in cleaning products.
- Do not wear unlined rubber gloves when cleaning with hot water, as the rubber can trap heat next to your skin. Instead, use lined rubber gloves or wear cotton gloves underneath.
- Long walks, jogging and aerobic sports such as tennis may cause friction on the feet and hands. Minimizing these activities at the beginning of therapy may be advisable, unless otherwise directed by your physician.
- Avoid using tools that you must grip, such as screwdrivers, shovels and knives.
- Gently apply alcohol-free creams or lotions to your hands and feet. Avoid vigorously massaging your hands and feet, as that causes friction.
If you are concerned about this side effect, or have other questions about your oncology medications, talk to a specialist pharmacist or nurse in the Express Scripts Oncology TRC.
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