Medication Adherence

Importance of good communication

Even though the responsibility of treatment might fall directly on you and your caregiver, there are several reasons why it’s important for you to continue to communicate with your entire health care team.

The doctors and nurses in charge of your care can help you understand your medications and the challenges you may face. They can also refer you to other health professionals who can help you through complicated insurance policies and financial assistance programs so you can more easily afford your medications.

Open and honest communication will ensure you get the most accurate information and support necessary to maintain your cancer treatment regimen. In addition to your doctors, friends and family may also provide much needed support and comfort.

Where to start

Effective communication begins with clear and concise instructions and information given to you by your health care team. Your doctor should describe your treatment regimen in a way you understand, and you should speak up when you have any questions. Whether your plan includes new drugs or changes to a drug you already take, don’t be shy about getting more information if you’re confused. In cases where you feel your treatment plan may be too complex, see if your doctor or nurse can simplify your instructions. Ask about treatment options that include fewer drugs that you can take less often (for example, once a day as opposed to three times a day). Your plan can be tailored to your needs, so work with your health care team to create a customized treatment plan that can be easily managed.

Clarify and verify

Don’t be embarrassed to admit you don’t understand the instructions that come with your medication. You may need to take your medication once a day, at certain times throughout the day or on specific days of a treatment cycle. Clarify any uncertainty about your treatment schedule before beginning, and always ask questions if the instructions are unclear.

To take your medicine safely, make sure you understand how the drugs you’re taking will interact with certain foods, supplements or other medicines. You need to know what to avoid so you can prevent dangerous side effects and adverse reactions, which can impact the overall success of your treatment. Common items such as antacids and grapefruit have been known to affect how certain medications work. Ask your doctor about any interaction that may occur and what precautions you can take to avoid them. Follow-up with your pharmacist or check the prescription drug label if you have any questions about known interactions.

Honesty is the best policy

In general, people want their doctors to think they’re “good” patients, so they tell their doctor what they think the doctor wants to hear. As a result, they may claim they’re taking their drug as prescribed, even if that’s not entirely true. Honesty is vital when talking to your doctor about adherence. You must tell your doctor if you stopped taking your drug or have skipped doses for any reason and, if so, for how long and why. If your drug has not produced the expected result and your doctor thinks you’ve been taking it as prescribed, he or she will think the drug is not working for you and may change drugs. That change could negatively affect the course of your disease. Don’t take that chance—be honest!

Drug diary

Keeping track of your adherence is an important part of being successful. It can be helpful for many patients to write down any side effects they experience during treatment so they remember to tell their doctor. Keeping track of the details allows your doctor to manage and monitor these side effects and will also help you keep track of your medication schedule. If you miss a dose or take one late, tell your treatment team to see what they recommend. Your doctors will constantly review tests and scans to accurately monitor your response to treatment, and the more information you’re able to share, the better able they are to measure the effectiveness of your treatment. The information you provide can help them determine whether to change the dose or even change the drug based on your reaction. Although dosing changes are sometimes necessary, don’t ever make changes to your treatment regimen without being told to do so by your doctor.


Important questions to ask your medical team

Ask your medical team the following questions BEFORE you begin taking any type of medication:

  • What is this drug used for? How is it going to help me?
  • What are the generic and brand name(s) for this drug? Is a generic version an option?
  • How long will I be taking this drug? How long does this specific prescription last, and will I need refills?
  • Should I take this medication with food or other medications? Or must I take separately?
  • What if I have trouble swallowing my medication?
  • What are the possible side effects, how do I monitor them, and what should I do if they occur?
  • How likely is it that these side effects will develop?
  • What side effects should I report (such as a certain level of fever, etc.)?
  • Does this drug have any known interactions with other drugs, supplements, foods or drinks? How do I monitor for drug interactions, and what should I do if they occur?
  • How long does it take for this drug to start working? How can we tell if it’s working? Are there certain tests I’ll need to take while I’m taking this medication?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose? What if I take too much? What if I vomit shortly after taking a dose?
  • Are there any precautions I need to be aware of while taking this drug?
  • Are there any special instructions about how this drug should be stored?
  • If I have any remaining doses, how should they properly be disposed of?