Who Isn’t Taking Their Cancer Medication?

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Who Isn’t Taking Their Cancer Medication?

Just a few years ago, a physician knew immediately if a patient didn’t follow the prescribed cancer treatment, because the treatment was likely given intravenously at a health care facility. If the patient missed a scheduled appointment, then the physician could work to get the patient back in compliance.

Today, oral cancer medications have increasingly taken the place of intravenous oncology therapy. This change removes the discomfort of the more invasive cancer treatment; however, when cancer medications are taken orally in the patient’s home, it’s more difficult to know which patients are adherent.

In an effort to better understand adherence with oral cancer medications, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute collected data about medication adherence in 77 oncology patients prescribed oral therapy. During the data collection, patients were also queried about demographics, mental health, and barriers to adherence.

The good news is that 70% of patients (49) showed a high level of medication adherence. Patients who missed the mark with adherence tended to have the following characteristics:

  • More disease symptoms and side effects
  • Higher rates of depression
  • Female

On the other hand, factors associated with better adherence included:

  • Working
  • Married or partnered
  • Older age

This study can help health care providers understand which patients might benefit from more support in terms of medication adherence.



Berry DL, Blonquist TM, Hong F, et al. Self-reported adherence to oral cancer therapy: relationships with symptom distress, depression, and personal characteristics. Patient Prefer Adherence 2015;9:1587-92.

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