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Most cancer treatments are given in a hospital or clinic. But certain types of treatment can be taken at home. This is usually the case for oral treatments, such as pills, capsules, tablets, and liquids, or topical treatments that are rubbed on the skin. Sometimes even intravenous (IV) or injectable treatments can be given at home. These treatments might be types of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy drugs.
If you're getting IV or injectable treatments, a home care nurse or IV therapy (infusion) nurse might come to your home to give your treatment. If you're taking oral treatment drugs, a nurse might come to be sure you are set up with your medicines, taking them as prescribed, know what side effects to watch for, and are handling the drugs safely. If a nurse is coming to your home, they might continue to come for a while, or they might teach you and your caregiver how to give or monitor home treatments.
It's not always possible to get your cancer treatment at home. Sometimes it might not be safe, or in some cases, treatments might not be covered by health insurance if they're given at home. If you're not able to get your cancer treatment at home, but are having trouble making frequent visits to the office or clinic, talk to your cancer care team and health insurance company. There might be options to use some kinds of telehealth (telemedicine). You might also be able to get some home care services.
Oral treatment is given by mouth. Topical treatment is rubbed on the skin. If oral or topical treatment is part of your treatment plan, the medicine will be prescribed to you by your doctor. You might get it at a regular pharmacy, through a mail-order pharmacy, or directly from your doctor. You might need to verify with your insurance company that you'll have coverage and if you'll have out-of-pocket costs with the treatment. Many of these drugs are quite expensive.
You'll need to take the medicine on a schedule, usually the same times every day. It's very important to follow the schedule exactly as you are taught. This will help the treatment drug remain in your body at the right dose all of the time. It will also help you to have the best treatment outcomes.
Tips for taking oral cancer treatments:
You can find more hints for taking these and learn more about safety precautions in Getting Oral or Topical Chemotherapy.
Intravenous (IV) treatments are given through a catheter or needle into a vein. These are usually given in a treatment center or clinic. But if you're getting these at home, a home health nurse (infusion nurse) will come to your home to give the treatment. Sometimes a family member is taught to give the medicine or to disconnect the lines when it's done infusing. There may be special care or precautions needed when handling the drug, depending on its type. You can read more in Equipment Used During Cancer Treatment: Tubes, Lines, Ports, and Catheters and learn about safety precautions in Getting Intravenous or Injectable Chemotherapy.
Injectable treatment are given through the skin with a needle. They might be given into a muscle (intramuscular or IM) or just under the skin (subcutaneous, subcu or subq) in an arm, leg, hip, or the belly. Sometimes these are given in a treatment center or clinic. But if you're getting these at home, a home health nurse (infusion nurse) will come to your home to give the treatment and will probably teach you to give it yourself or teach a family member or caregiver to give it to you. There may be special care or precautions needed when handling the drug, depending on its type. You can read more about safety precautions in Getting Intravenous or Injectable Chemotherapy.
Some cancer drugs are dangerous chemicals, no matter how they are given to the patient. Many are classified as hazardous drugs. In these cases, it's important that only the person being treated should be exposed to them. No matter how you take these drugs, the chemicals remain in your body for hours to days after you take them. Small amounts of these drugs are in your urine, feces, vomit, and even your sweat.
Ask your cancer care team if the treatment you'll be taking at home is hazardous. If it is, here are some "rules" to follow to keep everyone in your household safe and keep them from being exposed to these chemicals:
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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National Cancer Institute (NCI). Chemotherapy and you. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf on March 20, 2020.
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Last Revised: March 30, 2020
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