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Do’s and Don’ts While Taking Anticancer Drugs

Published on Mar 15, 2022 and last reviewed on Aug 11, 2022   -  6 min read


Taking matters into your own hands, particularly with anticancer drugs, can be dangerous. This article will help you understand what to expect and what to do and avoid while under treatment.


What Are Anticancer Drugs?

Generally, the cells in our body grow and die in a predetermined and controlled way. But sometimes, certain changes in the cells' DNA makes them grow without control, resulting in a tumor or cancer. Anticancer drugs or chemotherapeutic drugs are used to stop these uncontrolled cells from multiplying. These drugs are available as pills to be taken orally or topical cream or injection. They kill the cancer cells, preventing them from spreading or slowing their growth. While this action is essential to shrink the tumor, the drugs can also harm healthy cells and result in various side effects. Depending on the type and amount of anticancer drugs administered and how the body reacts, the patient might show a lot or no side effects at all. Chemotherapy drugs are usually prescribed as part of an overall cancer treatment plan, and it may also include radiation therapy and surgery.

In cancer treatment, anticancer or chemotherapeutic drugs can be used:

  1. As a primary or only treatment to cure cancer.

  2. As an adjuvant therapy, these drugs are used after surgery or radiation therapy to kill the hidden or inoperable cancer cells.

  3. As neoadjuvant therapy, to shrink or reduce the size of the tumor before surgery or radiotherapy.

  4. As palliative therapy, to relieve signs and symptoms of cancer by killing a few cells.

How Do Anticancer Drugs Work?

The mode of action of chemotherapy drugs differ, and they work either by:

What Are the Commonly Used Chemotherapeutic Drugs?

The commonly prescribed groups of chemotherapeutic drugs include:

1) Alkylating Agents - This group is the oldest type of anticancer drugs. They prevent cancer cells from multiplying by damaging the DNA of cancer cells. They are used in the treatment of leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, breast, and ovarian cancer. Cyclophosphamide, Carboplatin, Temozolomide, Cisplatin, and Melphalan are some examples of alkylating agents.

2) Antimetabolites - These drugs stop cancer cell growth by interfering with these cells' normal metabolism. They are commonly used to treat breast cancer, ovarian cancer, leukemia, and intestinal cancer. Examples of antimetabolites include 6-Mercaptopurine, 5-Fluorouracil, Methotrexate, and Gemcitabine.

3) Anthracycline - This type of chemotherapeutic drug attacks the enzymes that help the cancer cells to divide and grow. Actinomycin-D, Daunorubicin, and Bleomycin are the most commonly used Anthracycline chemotherapy drugs.

4) Topoisomerase Inhibitors - These drugs also work by attacking enzymes that help cancer cells grow. Lung cancer, ovarian cancer, intestinal cancer, and some types of leukemia are treated with the help of topoisomerase inhibitors. Teniposide, Etoposide, and Irinotecan are some examples.

5) Mitotic Inhibitors - These drugs stop the cancer cells from replicating and block the proteins that the cancer cells use to grow. They are commonly prescribed for lung and breast cancers, leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma. Some examples include Vinblastine, Docetaxel, and Paclitaxel.

6) Steroids - Drugs like Prednisolone, Methylprednisolone, and Dexamethasone are useful in treating various types of cancer.

What Are the Other Types of Anticancer Drugs?

Nowadays, various new types of anticancer drugs are being used, which includes:

How to Take Anticancer Drugs the Right Way?

It is vital to wash your hands before and after taking anticancer drugs. Carefully take the pill from the leaflet or the bottle over the table to prevent it from falling on the floor. In case a family member or caregiver is giving you the pills, make sure they wear gloves while doing so. Always swallow the pill whole (the entire tablet) and do not crush or cut it. And if you vomit immediately after taking the anticancer drug, avoid taking another drug and immediately call your doctor.

Missing a Dosage - Missing or forgetting anticancer pills can worsen your condition, which is why it is crucial to take the drugs on time. Use drug dosette boxes, maintain a journal, calendar, or set the alarm on your smartphone to keep track.

While Traveling - Consult your doctor and confirm if you are fit enough to travel. Always carry your prescription and required medicines with you. You can also discuss with the doctor about getting a flu shot or other immunization, as they are usually contraindicated while on cancer treatment.

How to Care for Yourself While on Anticancer Drugs?

It is important to take care of yourself while on cancer treatment. Make it a point to listen to your body, and try to readjust your work and routine accordingly. If you can, continue doing your regular activities. As anticancer drugs can make you tired and weak, only do the things you can, surround yourself with family and friends, do not shy away from asking for help, and try to laugh and enjoy your life. The other important things include:

Nutrition - Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet will give strength and energy while on treatment. Try to include protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, a lot of water, and fats in your diet. Eating right will help in recovery, avoid excessive weight loss, and improve your tolerance to treatment. It also decreases the risk of infection.

Exercise - Cancer treatment might make you feel extremely tired and drained of energy, and exercise will be the last thing you think about. But, doing some exercise and keeping as active as possible can help you feel better. Staying active improves physical abilities, improves balance, prevents fractures, improves circulation, lowers the risk of blood clots, and makes you feel more energetic. Always consult your doctor before deciding on doing any exercise.

Quit Smoking - Quitting smoking can make cancer treatments work effectively, reduce side effects, improve overall health, and reduce the time needed for recovery.

Alcohol - Avoid drinking alcohol while on treatment, as it may interact with your cancer medicines and can worsen your side effects.

How to Manage Common Side Effects of Anticancer Drugs?


Tiredness (Fatigue):

Nausea and Vomiting:

Bleeding or Bruising:

Hair Loss:

Dry Mouth:

Skin and Nail Changes:


Your treatment experience can be made better by sharing about how these drugs are affecting you with your doctor. Inform the doctor about all side effects as soon as they develop so that appropriate changes can be made to the treatment plan. For more information, consult a doctor online now.


Last reviewed at:
11 Aug 2022  -  6 min read




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