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Managing Medications

Cancer treatment usually involves taking a lot of medications. In addition to drugs directly related to treatment, cancer patients may also be taking medications for pain, nausea, low blood counts and other treatment- or cancer-related symptoms. Some patients may have to take up to 20 pills a day, and keeping track of medications can be a challenge. With some organization, you can make sure you're taking the right medication at the right time, and avoid dosing errors.

Organizing your medications can make your life simpler and help you get the most benefit possible from your treatment.

Keep a Record of Your Medications

Maintain a master list of all of your medications. This record should include basic information such as your name, home and work phone numbers, blood type, medical conditions, emergency contact information, your doctor’s name and phone number and a list of any food or drug allergies. Keep the drug list with you and bring it to every doctor's appointment. 

Include the following information about specific drugs:

  • Name and strength of the medication
  • Dosage instructions
  • The color of the pill
  • What you are taking it for
  • When you began taking it
  • Any food or drug interactions
  • Any over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements you’re taking. Some of these can interact with your prescription medication and possibly interfere with their effectiveness.

Organizing Medications

There are a variety of ways to help you remember when to take your medications. Choose the system that works best for you.

Pill organizers: These containers, available in different shapes and sizes at drug stores, have compartments for the pills to be taken each day, or at different times of the day. Some have child safety locks, reminder alarms and automatic pill dispensers. There are also an assortment of alarms and watches that signal you when it’s time to take medication.

Create your own organizer: Place each day’s pills in a small cup (or two cups if you take medications at two different times of day). If you must take pills several times throughout the day, an empty egg carton can be an effective organizer. Number the 12 sections of the carton for 12 hours of the day. Place the medication you need to take at that time in the proper container. 

Charts and calendars: Write your drug schedule on a calendar, and cross items off when you have taken those pills. You can also use different-colored stickers on the lids of each medicine bottle. Every time you take the medicine, place a sticker of the same color on the calendar as a visual reminder of which pills you’ve taken.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center