The Importance of Adhering to Your Lung Cancer Medication

Strategies to overcome side effects, financial costs, and other challenges of taking medication for lung cancer.

A senior man sits in his hospital room during a stay for lung cancer treatment.

Many treatment plans for lung cancer include medications that are taken as pills or administered with an IV. While every lung cancer treatment plan is personalized for a particular person, one factor that all treatment plans have in common—for a person with lung cancer to get the most benefit, a medication needs to be taken as directed.

Adhering to a treatment plan comes with a number of challenges, such as side effects, cost, and taking medications at consistent times.

Here, we look at a few strategies to give yourself the best chance of adhering to your lung cancer medication.

Communicate with your healthcare team

One of the best things you can do as a patient is establish good communication with your healthcare providers. When it comes to your diagnosis and your treatment plan, your healthcare providers are your best source of information.

Some of the questions and topics you should discuss include:

  • The brand name and generic name of all medicines you are prescribed.
  • The category of each drug being used and how it works to treat lung cancer.
  • Why your healthcare providers recommend this approach.
  • What are the goals of using this treatment plan?
  • How long will I be on this treatment?
  • How will treatment impact my normal day-to-day activities?

If anything is unclear, ask your healthcare providers for an explanation and ask if they can provide any patient education material.

If you are taking an oral medication

Make sure you have clear instructions on the dosing schedule, including the size of the doses, the times of day you need to take the medication, and if the medication needs to be taken with or without food. Ask your healthcare provider what to do if you miss a dose. If taken incorrectly, anti-cancer drugs can be toxic to the body. Taking medications incorrectly is also associated with poorer outcomes.

If you are receiving medication with an IV

Some medicines for cancer are administered via an intravenous infusion (IV). Infusions can be administered at a cancer care clinic, at your healthcare provider’s office, at the hospital, or from a healthcare provider that visits your home. Know when and where your appointments are, what medicine you will be receiving, how long you can expect the therapy session to last, and how to prepare for an infusion session. Some infusion therapies require blood testing prior to an infusion appointment. Some also require blood testing after an infusion.

Speak up about side effects

Unfortunately, drugs used to treat cancer cause side effects. It is helpful to talk to your healthcare providers about the potential side effects before starting a therapy or when starting a therapy.

Once you’ve started treatment, tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you experience. Also ask about the serious side effects to watch for and what to do if you think you are experiencing a severe reaction to a medicine.

The specific side effects will vary depending on the medicines being used. Your healthcare providers can explain what the common side effects are and strategies for coping with or lessening side effects. Nutrition, exercise, and changes to your lifestyle (such as quitting smoking, if you smoke) are some of the topics you should discuss.

Talk about treatment cost

Cancer treatment can be expensive. If you have concerns about paying for cancer treatment, this is something that you need to discuss with your healthcare providers. Express your concerns and ask about ways that you may be able to reduce the cost. Many cancer care teams include an oncology social worker who can help you negotiate the practical aspects of cancer treatment, including finances.

Get support

Living with the emotional and mental burden of a disease like cancer is not easy. Feelings of anger, sadness, stress, uncertainty, anxiety, and depression are common. Counseling and social support—such as a support group—can help you address the feelings you are experiencing. This is another topic to discuss with an oncology social worker.

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Sonia Amin Thomas (Sonia Patel), Teena John, Erin Criner, Thuy My Nguyen. "Challenges to Oral Chemotherapy Adherence." U.S. Pharmacist, 2019.
Cancer.Net. "What to Expect When Having Chemotherapy."
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