Health Headlines: Problems with at-home cancer treatment

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Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 8:36 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - While most people know about chemotherapy many are unaware that some cancers can be treated with pills a patient can take home. But a new study from Duke University suggests that many patients undergoing at-home treatment don’t always take their medication as prescribed.

Deborah Tippett is a retired professor, world traveler, and ballroom dancer. And for the second time in 13 years, she’s battling cancer.

“Doctors found in a routine exam, a little abnormality, which they decided to test.”

When Tippett had lymphoma years ago, treatment meant trips to a clinic and IV chemo.

“Sometimes, it would be 10 hours by the time I met with the doctor had my blood work, had the treatment.”

This time, Tippett’s doctor had a lab test her tumor for genetic mutations and found that an anti-cancer treatment could work for her ovarian cancer. Duke GYN oncologist, Dr. Brittany Davidson, studies cancer patients and how they fare with this treatment at home.

Dr. Davidson explains, “Several of my partners said, ‘Well, it’s not going to be a problem. These patients have cancer, so, of course, they’re going to take their treatment.’”

But in a survey of 100 cancer patients taking oral anti-cancer treatment, Dr. Davidson found that 50% of patients took their medications exactly as prescribed. That means, the right amount, at the exact time, and under the correct conditions.

About 25% missed at least one dose a week and another 25% missed more than one does.

Dr. Davidson says, " “This tells us that adherence is still a problem.”

Earlier research suggested that side effects, patient support at home, and finances can all impact at-home treatment. Tippett and Dr. Davidson worked with the pharmaceutical company so she could afford her drug, Mekinist, and Tippett builds her day around medication time so that she never misses a dose.

Tippett says, “I know that that’s the first thing I do when I get out of bed.”

These days, Tippett is back on her toes and feeling more like herself again.

“I’m just grateful to be living in a time where I could have all these options.”

Dr. Davidson says there’s no research that shows what happens when patients are occasionally late or miss a dose. If patients miss many doses, the treatment may not work as effectively, and if the doses are too close together, the side effects might be more severe.