As cancer rates rise worldwide, scientists and researchers are ramping up their efforts to find and develop new treatment options. And they’re doing good work: deaths from cancer have been steadily declining over the years – down a whopping 25% from 1990 to 2014, according to the National Cancer Institute. And year by year, the death rates continue to fall by about 2%.
New treatments and options for how they are administered are cropping up all the time, designed to make the lives of cancer patients much easier. One option has emerged that doesn’t involve a new therapy, it involves a different site of care for the patient: their home. That’s right, as was done several decades ago, some regional cancer care providers are arranging for their patients to receive treatment at home instead of in an infusion clinic.
Cancer patients often must undergo chemotherapy multiple times per month in specialized clinics. These clinics can be depressing and lonely places to receive treatment, thus negatively impacting the mental health of cancer sufferers. That’s why a large number of cancer patients are turning to home treatment, even for chemotherapy. A person’s home is usually a welcoming, peaceful place to be (especially when compared with many infusion clinics). Why suffer through hours of chemotherapy treatment in a medical setting when you can do the same thing in the comfort of your own home?
The question many ask themselves when it comes to home administration of chemotherapy is: “Is it safe?” It’s a valid question, especially when you take into consideration the toxicity of cancer drugs and potential adverse reactions to them. Luckily, there are a number of safety protocols which must be followed during home chemotherapy.
Those who choose to take their cancer drugs at home are usually required to have a nurse at their side who will administer the medicine and monitor the patient. Nurses will also keep track of the patient’s vital signs and inform them of any possible side effects of the drugs. Additionally, patients must be in contact with their oncologist, who will take necessary action in case of an emergency.
Numerous studies have also been done on the safety and effectiveness of home-based chemotherapy. An Australian study done in 2000 found that cancer patients “overwhelmingly” preferred therapy at home. No surprise there. But the study also found that patients who received home administered chemotherapy had no increased risk of developing complications and that their overall outcomes were similar to those who had chemotherapy in a clinic. In addition, home administered chemotherapy is typically a much more cost-effective option than hospital-based treatment.
Another 2010 study concluded that patients who chose to undergo home-based chemotherapy were less likely to rely on emergency services and visited the hospital less often.
Based on the safety protocols and the studies done on the subject, it’s reasonable to assume that taking your cancer drugs in a home setting is quite safe. However, the safety profile for any specific individual and situation should be thoroughly evaluated before establishing a plan to administer cancer treatment at home. Despite home-based treatment being a safe and effective option for cancer patients overall, it’s always best to carefully consider the pros and cons with your family, your oncologist, your nurse, and your other care providers before making a decision.
Surya Singh, MD
Founding Medical Partner
Dr. Singh is actively licensed & board certified in internal medicine. He is currently the CEO of gWell, Inc, a genomics and wellness focused digital health company, and serves as a senior advisor and board member for mission aligned companies and non-profits. In addition, he is an Adjunct Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was formerly Corporate Vice-President and Chief Medical Officer of Specialty Pharmacy at CVS Health, and was an attending physician for many years at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.