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Chemo pills put cancer patients in control

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Chemotherapy pills, which are taken at home, come with complex instructions that can be difficult for many patients to follow.

A new study, published in the journal Cancer Nursing, underscores the challenges patients face in administering their own chemotherapy outside the supervised environment of a cancer clinic.

“Prescriptions for some oral pills have complex instructions,” says Sandra Spoelstra, assistant professor of nursing at Michigan State University.

“Some of them require patients to take pills several times a day or cycle their doses, taking one pill a day for three weeks, then stopping for a week before starting again. And some patients take two types of pills to treat their cancer or have multiple medications for other chronic conditions. It can be very complicated.”

In addition, side effects such as severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, skin reactions, and pain are common. Those symptoms can lead some patients to skip doses, which may render their cancer treatment ineffective.

During the study more than 40 percent of participating patients took too many pills or missed doses. People with complex treatment regimens were more likely to show poor adherence.

Researchers randomly assigned patients to one of three groups. Members of the first group only had help from an automated calling system to see if they were following their prescriptions and help them monitor and manage symptoms.

The second group got the automated calls and follow-up calls from nurses with strategies for sticking to their pill regimen. The rest got automated calls and nurse advice on both adhering to their regimen and managing symptoms.

Patients in all three groups reported less severe symptoms at the end of the study. The automated calls were just as effective alone as when they were coupled with nurse guidance. That suggests the automated system could be a simple and inexpensive way to help some patients take their drugs properly, Spoelstra says.

The small study will be the springboard for more comprehensive research that may yield clearer lessons for health care professionals, says Barbara Given, a professor who co-authored the study and leads the College of Nursing’s efforts to improve oral chemotherapy.

In the meantime, nurses should be attentive when explaining oral chemo regimens to be sure patients and their families understand how to take the drugs as prescribed.

“It’s cutting-edge treatment, but we don’t know enough about it yet,” she says. “People think if they had a life-threatening disease and their doctor recommended treatment, they’d follow the recommendations. But it’s really not that simple.”

Source: Michigan State

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