Treatment by mouth (oral therapies)

A man in his sixties wearing glasses carefully examining the label on a medicine bottle

Some cancer drugs are taken my mouth, as a tablet or capsule.

These are known as oral therapies.  

Oral therapies are just as effective as intravenous drugs.

It is very important to take your tablets exactly as prescribed. Taking less or more of the prescribed dose could be dangerous and will affect how well your treatment works.

What are oral therapies?

Some chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs are taken my mouth, as a tablet or capsule. These are known as oral therapies.

After you take the drug by mouth, it is absorbed into your blood stream and carried around your body just like intravenous drugs. Oral therapies are just as effective as intravenous drugs.

Oral therapies are usually prepared in a special area of the hospital pharmacy. All the drugs are carefully checked by the pharmacy staff to make sure they are the right ones for you.

The following healthcare professionals can help you when you are taking your oral therapies: 

  • Clinical nurse manager 
  • Oncology liaison nurse 
  • Pharmacist
  • Oncologist 
  • Our cancer nurses on our Support Line 1800 200 700 or in our Daffodil Centres

Before you start oral therapies at home

Your oncologist or a member of your medical team will prescribe the medication. The hospital pharmacist will dispense the medication to you. You and a family member or carer will attend an oral therapy information session. You will also be provided with written information.

Your doctor or nurse will explain:

  • When to take the tablets or capsules
  • How often to take them
  • Whether to take them with food or not
  • How to handle the tablets
  • How to store them, for example, in a fridge or cool place
  • What to do if you forget to take your tablets

You may find a patient diary useful to help you keep track of your medication. It also important to keep track of any side-effects. This will also help you to remember what to tell the doctor or nurse when you are in the hospital. 

When you are at home

When taking chemotherapy and other oral therapies, they should never be touched with bare hands as they may cause skin irritation. Place them in a spoon or small cup instead. Wash your hands afterwards. If someone is helping you, make sure they wear gloves. Store the tablets in a safe place and keep them away from children.

If you cannot take your tablets for any reason or if you are sick soon afterwards, contact your doctor or nurse immediately for advice. If you forget to take your tablets, don’t take a double dose the next day.

The drug prescription given to you by your doctor will be for a full course of treatment. For this reason, you must take them exactly as prescribed. If you need more supplies, talk to your hospital doctor, who can contact your local pharmacy.

It is very important to take your tablets exactly as prescribed.

Hints & Tips – taking cancer drugs at home

  • Avoid direct contact with the drugs.
  • Wear gloves when handling clothing or bedsheets soiled with vomit or diarrhoea.
  • Check with your pharmacist or nurse on how the tablets or capsules should be stored.
  • Store all drugs out of reach of children to prevent serious harm if taken by accident.
  • If another person or child takes your tablets by mistake, contact a doctor straight away.
  • If you feel sick or unwell at any time, phone the nurse or doctor at the hospital for advice.

Help with managing medicines from the HSE

A page of the HSE My Medicines leaflet with rows where patients can fill in details of the medicines they are taking and how to take them
HSE My Medicines leaflet
Leaflet with space to record all your medicines, what they are for and when and how to take them. The leaflet is available in English and other languages. Visit the Know Check Ask site for more.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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