When we think about chemotherapy (chemo) treatment for cancer, more often than not we harbor visions of intravenous (IV) injections of chemicals with complicated names, usually being administered in sterile medical environments with the patient surrounded by attending oncology professionals. But advances in chemotherapy drugs over the past decade are quickly changing the perceptions most of us have developed about chemotherapy and how it is administered. The fact that chemotherapy is available in oral (pill) form for numerous types of cancer is a surprise to many. In fact, an estimated 30% of cancer drugs in development are oral, and the trend is increasing.
With cancer survival rates consistently increasing over the past decade, cancer is becoming a chronic illness for cancer patients. The ability to receive extended cancer therapy protocols at home and by mouth is beneficial in time, convenience and cost that accompanies typical IV administered treatments. Oral anticancer medications (OAMs) have become available to treat many different cancers, including lung, leukemia, colorectal, kidney, and prostate and have been shown to be as effective as other forms of treatment. “The efficacy of chemotherapy pills … are similar to the traditional intravenous therapy, with research showing that the overall survival with oral chemotherapy is the same as patients would have with traditional intravenous chemotherapy,” says Dr. Hannah Luu, California-based oncologist and CEO and founder of OncoGambit.
However, OAMs shift much of the responsibility for proper administration from attending medical professionals to the patient and family members. Dr. Luu cautions, “Chemotherapy pills have the potential to cause the same serious toxicities as intravenous chemotherapy. If used incorrectly, they can potentially have fatal outcomes. It’s important for patients to be aware of their treatment plan and take their chemotherapy drugs accordingly. It’s even more important that the patient doesn’t take the missed pills with the next dose.”
Doctor appointments are still necessary with the use of OAMs, to perform regular scans or blood tests to ensure the medication is working safely and effectively. Handling of these oral medications requires careful attention as well as consistent adherence to the treatment regimen. Not skipping doses is critical to effective treatment.
A recent study showed that both providers and patients face barriers from insurance carriers on the use of OAMs. Some insurers cover OAMs as a prescription drug benefit, rather than a medical procedure. Delays in getting approval may be labor intensive and take several weeks. Out-of-pocket costs can vary and may require additional administrative support to overcome.
Gettysburg Cancer Center, a leader in oncology care across south central Pennsylvania since 1989, is dedicated to providing all-encompassing oncology and hematology programs and a complete range of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care for patients. For more information call (717) 334-4033.