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Reduce the risk when taking cancer pills with an automated calling system

by , 13 January 2013

While taking your own cancer chemo pills instead of being booked in for lengthy traditional intravenous drug cycles is a breakthrough in how your cancer is cared for outside of specialised clinics, a new Michigan State University study shows that it’s not all good news. Cancer patients stop taking their pills if they’re hit by too many side effects or the instructions are confusing. Here’s how an automated calling system has been developed to help patients keep taking their pills.

Sandra Spoelstra, the MSU assistant professor of nursing who led the study, says while the pills can target specific cancers better than the traditional drugs, they can be difficult to take.
Avoid confusion by asking for advice when cancer pill instructions are complex
Spoelstra explains: “Prescriptions for some oral pills have complex instructions. Some of them require patients to take pills several times a day or [to] cycle their doses, taking one pill a day for three weeks, then stopping for a week before starting again. And some patients take two types of pills to treat their cancer or have multiple medications for other chronic conditions. It can be very complicated.”
Side effects may be why patients skip cancer pill doses 
In addition, side effects such as severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, skin reactions and pain are common. These symptoms lead some patients to skip their cancer pill doses, which renders their cancer treatment ineffective.
During the study, published in the journal Cancer Nursing, more than 40% of participating patients took too many cancer pills or missed doses, with poor adherence more likely among those with complex treatment regimens.
The research study found that an automated calling system, developed at MSU, help patients follow prescriptions and monitor and manage symptoms is a simple and inexpensive way to help some patients take their pills properly.
An automated calling system may help with administering cancer pills correctly
The small study will be the springboard for more comprehensive research that may yield clearer lessons for health care professionals in the area of cancer pill adherence, said University Distinguished Professor Barbara Given, who co-authored the study.
Given explains: “It’s cutting-edge treatment, but we don’t know enough about it yet. [You’d think if someone] had a life-threatening disease and their doctor recommended treatment [like following a simple pill regimen], they’d follow the recommendations. But it’s really not that simple.”
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