Many of the new drugs being developed to treat cancer are available in pill form. Hormonal treatments and medications that prevent recurrence or treat side effects often come in pill form as well. Research shows that these treatments work best when you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.

Here are some tips for sticking (or “adhering”) to your treatment plan:

Get instructions in writing. When you start a treatment plan, have your doctor provide written instructions that you can take home and review. The instructions should explain:

  • the size and appearance of the pill
  • how often to take it
  • what time to take it
  • the dose per pill
  • what to do if you miss a dose
  • whether to take it on an empty stomach or with food

Get the details. Understanding how your medication works and why you are taking it will help you feel more in control. Be sure your doctor explains how your medication will benefit you. Find out what, if any, side effects to expect so that you’re not taken by surprise. Be aware of any foods or other medications that could interfere with your medication. You may find it helpful to create a drug diary like the sample one on the back of this fact sheet.

Consider the cost. Ask your health care team about the cost of your medications, and find out if they are covered by your insurance. Many drug companies may offer patient assistance programs to help you obtain medications at a lower cost, or with a referral from your doctor. Some organizations such as the CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation (www.cancercarecopay.org) provide co-payment assistance to eligible individuals with insurance coverage. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org) helps people without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need at a reduced cost or free.

Plan ahead. Before traveling, check the number of refills left on your prescription. Contact your doctor when you are on the last bottle. Bring your medication in its original container, and avoid packing pills in checked luggage in case your luggage is lost.

Communicate with your health care team. Your health care team can include doctors, nurses, social workers, your pharmacist, and others. Write down the names and phone numbers of key members of your team so that you will have someone to call with any questions.

Enlist some help. Team with a friend or family member who can take turns picking up your prescriptions from the pharmacy. If you live alone, find a phone buddy who understands your medication routine. Check in with that person regularly to let him or her know you’ve taken your medication.

Join a support group. For some people, taking pills after they have finished their cancer treatments is difficult. They may feel as though they will never stop being “cancer patients.” Others may find that taking pills is a daily reminder of cancer. Joining a support group or speaking with a counselor often helps people cope better.

Keeping a Medication Diary

A medication diary can help you keep track of the pills you take each day. Bring the diary with you to medical appointments.

Start a weekly chart like the one here with columns running up and down for each day of the week and rows running across the page for each drug listed. You may want to use different colored highlighters to color code the chart. This may help you distinguish between different drugs with complex names.

Name of Drug SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
Drug 1
Drug 2 - 1st Dose
Drug 2 - 2nd Dose
Drug 3
Drug 4

Side effects or other concerns to discuss with my health care team:

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This fact sheet was made possible by an unrestricted grant from OSI Oncology.

The information presented in this publication is provided for your general information only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are aware of your specific situation. We encourage you to take information and questions back to your individual health care provider as a way of creating a dialogue and partnership about your cancer and your treatment.