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Many medications treating cancer are available in pill form. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and take your medication as scheduled.

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. If you still have questions after your doctor’s visit, your pharmacist may also be able to help. You may find it helpful to create a drug diary like the sample one on the back of this fact sheet.

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.

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 provide co-payment assistance to eligible individuals with insurance coverage. The Medicine Assistance Tool 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. Let your doctor know when you are travelling and if you will need your medication refilled soon. Bring your medication in its original container, and avoid packing pills in checked luggage in case your luggage is lost.

Ask for help. Ask a friend or family member who can take turns picking up your prescriptions from the pharmacy. If you live alone, find a friend 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.

Edited by Mary Hanley, MSW

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Thumbnail of the PDF version of The Importance of Taking Your Pills Every Day on Schedule

Download a PDF(386 KB) of this publication or order a free print copy.

This fact sheet is supported by Bristol Myers Squibb.

Last updated Thursday, March 24, 2022

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.

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