Medication Management

What are the medication issues related to cancer?
How can we better manage the patient’s medications?
When should I talk to the patient's healthcare provider?


What are the medication issues related to cancer?

People with cancer often take many medications. Following the doctor’s orders can be hard when some need to be taken with food, some without, some in the morning, some at bedtime, some as needed, some once a day, and others multiple times a day, or even around the clock. Some medications may be taken by mouth; others injected. There are topicals, eye drops, transdermal patches, etc. It can be complicated!

Patients may have a hard time keeping track, and accidentally skip a dose.

Also, cancer drugs can cause side effects. These can make the patient feel unable or unwilling to take them as prescribed. Medication interactions can occur even when the patient is taking everything as prescribed.

Cancer patients often see several healthcare providers, who may not know what else the patient has been prescribed. The patient may accidentally be prescribed drugs that do the same things, or medications that shouldn’t be taken in together.

Back to top

How can we better manage the patient’s medications?

Keeping track

The most important thing is helping the patient keep track of medications. Work with her or him to create a record with the following information for each medication: 

  • Name of the medication    
  • Prescribed by (doctor)    
  • Prescribed for (purpose)    
  • Instructions (how much, when, for how long)    
  • Possible side effects    
  • Foods to avoid    
  • What to do if dose missed    
  • Pharmacy   

You can use this worksheet as a starting point. You can also ask another friend or family member—who is very well organized!—to handle this. For instance, someone who wants to help with caregiving but lives far away may be a good choice.

Whoever manages the medication records, be sure to include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements. These can interact with prescription medication so the patient’s healthcare providers need to know about them. And, be sure to write down when prescriptions need to be refilled.

If possible, encourage the patient to use the same pharmacy to fill all prescriptions. The pharmacist can identify any drugs that might interact badly.

Make sure the person you’re caring for knows to take his or her medication record to all medical appointments and asks his or her healthcare provider to update it as needed.

Help the patient take their medication

You—or another person on the care team—can help the patient take medications day-to-day. For example, create a calendar together. Or suggest the patient set an alarm or daily phone reminders at medication times.

Some people with cancer find it helpful to prepare (or have someone prepare) their medications on a weekly basis. For oral medications, you can pick up a pill organizer with different slots for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime at any pharmacy. This can save time, and make it easier to keep track. But be sure to store medications as directed. Some need to be refrigerated; other kept out of the light; etc.

Back to top

When should I talk to the patient's healthcare provider?

You or the patient should contact his or her healthcare provider if:

  • The patient has missed a dose and you don’t know what to do.
  • The patient is having symptoms that may be side effects of medication like rashes, drowsiness, confusion, depression, insomnia, incontinence, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, balance problems, and/or changes in speech and memory.
  • The patient is having a hard time taking medications as prescribed.
  • The patient’s medication is not covered by insurance.

For more information, see Safe & Sound: How to Prevent Medication Mishaps (Caregiver Action Network).

Back to top

Next learn about...

Financial planning (Get help paying for medication)
Talking with healthcare providers

Making a caregiving plan

Article Topics: 
This website was created to provide information, education, and support that will help cancer caregivers care for themselves and their family members. It is not meant as medical advice. Please check with your physician for any advice about your health.