Manage Your Medications Safely

When a person is in cancer treatment, he or she will be prescribed a number of medications, each of which may have very specific instructions on when and how to take that drug. It’s vitally important that patients take their medications exactly as directed and in the exact amount prescribed. Some patients find it easier to keep their meds straight if they use a pill organizer, while others use different methods. Whatever method you choose, be sure to follow all drug instructions closely. Here are some tips that will help you safely and effectively manage your cancer medications.

General Medication Guidelines

  • Know the name and purpose of each medication you take.
  • Closely follow all instructions issued with medications.
  • Before mixing prescribed and over-the-counter medications, consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential medication side effects. If you experience worrisome side effects, contact a doctor immediately.
  • Be sure that your prescriber is aware of all food and drug allergies you have.
  • Never mix medications with alcohol.
  • Keep medications in a place where they are not visible or accessible to children.
  • Dispose of all old medications, medications that have changed in appearance or odor since they were issued, or medications that have lost their label. The best way to safely dispose of old medications is to flush them down the toilet—be sure to throw away the medication container, as well.

Nutrition Guidelines

Many medications need to be taken with food to be fully effective or to minimize potential side effects, while others are meant to be taken on an empty stomach. But how much food is enough? This is a common question for cancer patients, many of whom struggle with loss of appetite and other medication side effects that make eating difficult.

If a medication is directed to be taken with food, a full meal is not necessary. Some examples of sufficient food for such medications include a slice of bread, 1/3 of a dietary supplement shake, or 6 crackers. Generally, 50-100 calories derived from a carbohydrate or protein is enough.

If a medication needs to be taken with a meal, patients should aim to eat 250-500 calories, which is roughly equal to one frozen dinner, a sandwich with a drink, or a full dietary supplement shake such as Ensure.

If your prescriber has issued information about potential food and drug interactions, it is important to follow his or her guidelines closely, as some foods can affect the efficacy of certain drugs and some medications interfere with the way the body absorbs nutrients.