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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 medicines are convenient. However, there are important safety precautions to consider when taking chemotherapy into the 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 come into contact with foods or everyday surfaces in the home.

It is important for family members and caregivers to 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 Medication

  • 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.

Handling Chemotherapy Medication

  • 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.
    • Wear disposable nitrile gloves. Do not use latex gloves or gloves that are torn or punctured.
    • Gloves help protect caregivers from absorbing chemotherapy through the skin. Gloves should be worn any time chemotherapy is handled by someone other than the patient.
    • Patients do not need to wear gloves when taking their medication. Patients should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling chemotherapy drugs. This will help to minimize exposure to other household members.
    • Disposable masks protect caregivers from breathing in chemotherapy drugs.
    • Masks may be needed if crushing or splitting tablets.
    • Wear a mask only if directed to do so by your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Safety goggles or glasses protect the eyes from chemotherapy, especially medicines that are in liquid form.
    • If there is a possibility of spilling or squirting of the medication, eye protection will be needed.

Cutting or Crushing Chemotherapy Medication

  • 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 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 away gloves after use. Do not reuse gloves.
    • Wash hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water.

Cleaning Up Spilled Chemotherapy

  • Block off the spill area, and keep children and pets away.
  • Put on gloves before cleaning the area.
  • For liquid spills, use absorbent paper towels to soak up 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 clothing, 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 eye with water for at least 15 minutes. Contact a doctor for additional 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.

Additional Resources


Reviewed: July 2018

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