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Safe Handling of Oral Chemotherapy Drugs at Home

Some chemotherapy for treatment of pediatric cancer can be given by mouth at home. Oral (by mouth) medicines are convenient. But you should follow important safety guidelines when taking chemotherapy into your home.

Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells, but it may also harm normal cells in the body. These medicines can sometimes be absorbed through the skin or breathed in through the lungs. Family members can also be exposed to chemotherapy if the drugs touch foods or everyday surfaces in the home.

Family members and caregivers must handle chemotherapy carefully and take steps to reduce exposure. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid all contact with these drugs.

All chemotherapy drugs that are brought into the home should be thought of as a possible hazard. Simple steps can protect patients, family members, and caregivers from harm.

Safety reminders:

  • Read medicine labels, and follow dosing instructions carefully.
  • Wash hands before and after handling chemotherapy medicines.
  • Wear gloves, mask, and/or safety glasses as instructed.
  • Clean surfaces, and wash all items used with the medicine.
  • Store medicines away from children, pets, and food.
  • Dispose of medicines properly.

Storing chemotherapy

  • Keep chemotherapy drugs out of reach of children and pets.
  • Store chemotherapy away from any food or medicine that will be consumed by other household members.
  • Store medicines in a cool, dry place away from sunlight or humidity. Do not store in the bathroom. Some chemotherapy may need to be refrigerated.

Read more about safe storage and disposal of chemotherapy.

Wear recommended protective gear such as gloves, mask, and glasses as instructed.

Wear recommended protective gear such as gloves, mask, and glasses as instructed.

Handling chemotherapy

  • Wash hands before and after handling chemotherapy.
  • Handle medicine on a clean surface.
  • Keep medicine away from food and other household items.
  • Pour pills into a small cup instead of your hand before giving them to the patient.
  • Wear recommended protective gear (gloves, mask, and/or glasses) as instructed.

How to cut or crush chemotherapy medicines

  • Some medicines must be cut or crushed prior to taking. Some tablets (such as mercaptopurine) may need to be split using a tablet cutter. Some gel caps (such as isotretinoin) may need to be cut using scissors. If using tablet cutters, scissors, or tablet crushers for chemotherapy, do not use these products for any other medications or uses.
  • Areas where medication is cut or crushed should be clean and free of clutter.
  • Prepare the medicine on a high surface, such as a table or counter.
  • Do not cut or crush chemotherapy near ceiling fans or vents. This will prevent blowing of the medication.
  • Cover the work surface with disposable plastic before cutting or crushing chemotherapy. This will protect the surface from spills and make it easier to clean.
  • After a chemotherapy dose is given:
    • Remove gloves by turning them inside out. Throw them away. Do not reuse them.
    • Wash hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water.

How to clean up spilled chemotherapy

  • Block off the spill area.
  • Keep children and pets away.
  • Put on gloves before cleaning the area.
  • For liquid spills, use paper towels to soak up the liquid. Start at the outside of the spill and work inward. Place paper towel into a plastic bag and seal.
  • Clean the area twice with warm, soapy water.
  • Rinse the area with water.
  • Remove contaminated clothes, place in a plastic bag, and seal. Wash these clothes as soon as possible; then wash a second time before using again. Wash separately from other laundry. 
  • If the chemotherapy gets into eyes:
    • Turn on cool water in faucet, and gently flush eyes with water for at least 15 minutes. Contact a doctor for more instructions.
  • If chemotherapy gets on skin:
    • Rinse the area with large amounts of clean water followed by soap and water for 10 minutes. If any redness or irritation develops, contact a doctor.

Safety from body fluids after chemotherapy

For 48 hours after your child takes chemotherapy, all of their body fluids can contain the drug. Be sure to ask for gloves to take home with you from the hospital if needed.

Follow these safety guidelines until 48 hours have passed:

  • Wear gloves and protective clothing when handling your child’s vomit, blood, urine, or bowel movements
  • Wear gloves when handling your child’s soiled linens.
  • Wear a face shield or goggles if there is a risk of splashing.
  • Wear gloves and a face shield or goggles when changing your child’s diaper. Put used diapers in your regular trash but try to limit your exposure to them.
  • Lower the toilet lid when flushing the toilet at home and in hospital housing.
  • If any of your child’s body fluids touch your skin during clean-up or diaper changes, wash your skin well with soap and water.
  • If any of your child’s body fluids get in your eyes, flush with water for 15 minutes while holding the eyelid open. Then, call your personal doctor and explain what has happened.

Key points about chemotherapy safety at home

  • Always read medicine labels and follow dosing instructions carefully.
  • Know how to safely store, handle, and give your child chemotherapy to keep you and your family safe during your child’s treatment.
  • Chemo medicines stay in your child’s body and body fluids for 48 hours after they take them. Follow safety guidelines as instructed.

Reviewed: October 2022