Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs or medicine to kill cancer cells. It is sometimes just called 'chemo'. Patients can have chemotherapy in different ways.
- Intravenous ( IV ) chemotherapy is given into the patient's vein, and goes straight into the blood.
- Oral chemotherapy is given by mouth, as tablets, capsules or liquids that the patient swallows.
Bush medicine : Bush medicine could cause problems for patients having cancer treatment. The patients should check with their doctor before using bush medicine.
There are important safety measures that you should take while caring for patients who are having chemotherapy. You also need to educate your patients and their families and their carers about safety. This section explains :
- How to protect yourself and your patients' families and carers from chemotherapy drugs.
- How to support patients who are taking oral chemotherapy at home.
- What equipment you may need, like gloves and spill kits.
Safety information for all chemotherapy patients :
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells but can also damage normal cells. Each time the patient has chemotherapy, it can take up to seven days for the chemotherapy drugs to leave the body. During these seven days, chemotherapy drugs can be in the patient's body fluids or waste products, including :
If you accidentally touch any of these fluids, some of the chemotherapy drugs could get into your body through your skin. You and your patient's family and carers need to take special care to stay safe for the first seven days after each chemotherapy treatment. The information given below explains how to do this.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not touch :
- chemotherapy medication
- body fluids ( urine, vomit, etc. ) of someone having chemotherapy
- any bedding, clothing, or cleaning cloths with the above body fluids on them
Educate your patient about cleaning up spills :
- If there is a spill of any body fluids or waste ( eg. stool, urine,vomit etc. ), put on rubber gloves and use a disposable cloth to clean up the spill straight away.
- Place the cloth in plastic bag and tie it closed; then place that plastic plastic bag into another plastic bag and tie it closed - this is called 'double bagging' . The plastic bag can then be placed in the normal household rubbish.
- Towels, linen or clothing that have body fluids on them should be machine washed separately in a hot or cold wash on the longest washing cycle. They can then be dried outside.
- If there is a spill of body fluids on bench top or floor, wear rubber gloves and wash it off with lots of water and detergent.
About feeling sick and vomiting :
- It is a good idea to keep a plastic bowl or bag ( without holes in it ) handy for this.
- A bowl used for vomiting should not be used for anything else.
- Wash the bowl out after each use.
- Throw it away at the end of the chemotherapy treatment.
About going to the toilet :
- After going to the toilet, close the lid and flush the toilet on full flush. This is so that fluids from the toilet don't splash out.
- Men should sit down when using the toilet so there is no splashing.
About having sex :
- Patients and their partners should always wear condums when having sex in the first seven days after chemotherapy treatment. This is because low amounts of chemotherapy drugs may be passed in the semen or vaginal secretions.
Safety information for patients taking oral chemotherapy at home :
- Make sure that the patient knows how to take the oral chemotherapy drugs.
- Most patients will have a written plan, telling them when to take their tablets. It is a good idea for you to go through this with them to make sure they have understood this information.
- Make sure the patient knows they must take the oral chemotherapy exactly as their doctor or pharmacist has told them to. This includes taking it on the right day, at the right time and with or without food as directed.
Check that the patient knows how to store the oral chemotherapy drugs safely. It is important to :
- keep the chemotherapy drugs in their original packaging
- store any chemotherapy drugs ( tablets or liquids ) as the doctor or pharmacist advises
- store them safely away from children or animals
Educate the patient how to handle oral chemotherapy drugs safely :
- Your patient can handle the oral chemotherapy drugs because the treatment is for them.
- After taking the drugs, they should wash their hands before touching anything else.
- You and the patient's family or carers should never touch chemotherapy medicine with your bare hands. This is because some of the chemotherapy drugs could be absorbed into the body through the skin.
- You should always ware a pair of rubber gloves to touch or handle chemotherapy drugs.
- Wash your hands after taking off the gloves.
How to take oral chemotherapy drugs safely. Your patient should :
- take the chemotherapy exactly as directed by the doctor or pharmacist ( may be with food or on an empty stomach )
- swallow the chemotherapy tablets or capsules whole - never crush, cut, chew or bite tablets and do not open capsules
- wash the hands after handling the chemotherapy tablet or capsule.
- If the patient cannot swallow the tablets, talk to the doctor straight away.
Important things to know :
What if my patient vomits after taking the chemotherapy tablets?
- If your patient vomits straight after taking a dose of oral chemotherapy, they should not take a replacement dose but contact the treatment team for further advice.
- If they have been given anti-sickness tablets to stop nausea and vomiting, they should take this medicine as the doctor or pharmacist has instructed even if they do not feel sick.
- If they have taken the anti-sickness medication and it does not stop them from vomiting, speak with the doctor about what to do.
- make a note to tell the doctor or nurse from the treatment team about any missed or vomited doses.
What if the patient forgets to take their chemotherapy tablets ?
- If your patient forgets to take a chemotherapy dose, they should take the next doseat the normal time as prescribed.
- Refer to the patient information sheet that they may have been given for further information and if the patient is unsure about what to do, speak with the doctor or clinic staff on the next working day.
- If there are any tablets left after completing the chemotherapy treatment the tablets or capsules should be returned to the cancer clinic or the pharmacy.
Useful equipment :
Gloves : The best gloves to use are nitrile gloves which are made from synthetic rubber and are resistant to chemotherapy.
- Two pairs of disposable gloves or
- Home-made spill kit : This may include incontinence pads or disposable cloths, gloves, plastic apron, vomit bags/bowl and plastic bags
- Be careful when removing gloves.
- Do not touch the outside of the gloves with your bare hands.
- Wash your hands after removing gloves.
With thanks to Cancer Institute NSW under Creative Commons Attribution 4
My thanks are also due to the Administrator of jimJimJimJim.com Forums Australian advanced prostate cancer support groups