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Chemotherapy is a treatment that’s designed to destroy cancer cells, no matter where they are in your body.
When you think about chemotherapy, you may envision needles, intravenous (IV) administration of drugs, and long hours in a doctor’s office or clinic. But many chemotherapy drugs come in oral form, either as a liquid you can drink or a tablet you can swallow.
Most people with cancer need more than one type of treatment. Other treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. You can take chemotherapy before, during, or after other treatments.
How much chemotherapy you need depends on the type of cancer you have, how far it has spread, and other health factors.

Not all chemotherapy drugs are available in oral form. Currently, there are dozens of oral cancer therapy drugs that treat a variety of cancers, including the following:

Drug (generic name) Cancer type
altretamine ovarian
capecitabine breast, colorectal
cyclophosphamide breast, ovarian, lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma
etoposide small cell lung cancer

Doctors often prescribe chemotherapy drugs in combination.

Before starting chemotherapy, you’ll have an opportunity to consult with your doctor. This is a good time to ask questions and discuss your concerns.

What to ask your doctor before starting oral chemotherapy

Here are some questions you may want to as your doctor:

  • What is each drug expected to do?
  • Exactly how should I take this medication? (You may be provided with a diary to keep track of times and doses.)
  • Can the pills be broken or crushed? Do they need to be taken with a meal?
  • Are there any particular foods I should avoid while taking this medication?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • What happens if I throw up after taking it?
  • How should I handle and store the drug?
  • What side effects can I expect from this drug, and what should I do if I have them? What are the warning signs of serious problems?
  • How often should I check in with your practice? When will I need blood tests or scans?
  • How long will I need to take it?
  • How will we know it’s working?

What to know about paying for oral chemotherapy

Most oncology practices help you figure out your health coverage and how you’ll pay for your treatment.

If you have health insurance, there’s a good chance that traditional chemotherapy is covered under major medical benefits. Depending on your policy, oral chemotherapy may fall under pharmacy benefits, which could mean you’ll have a much higher copay.

What to know about leftover oral chemotherapy drugs

You might be left with unused drugs when you finish treatment or if your treatment plan changes. These are powerful drugs, so you should never flush them down the toilet or sink. You also shouldn’t put them in the trash.

Check with your pharmacist or doctor’s office. Many will take them off your hands or let you know how to dispose of them properly.