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Chemotherapy At Home: Safely Handling and Giving Medicines

 What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a group of medicines that treat cancer. They may destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.
Chemotherapy can also damage normal cells in the body. When nurses give chemotherapy, they wear protective equipment such as a gown, gloves, mask, and goggles in case they are accidentally exposed to chemotherapy.

Although the risk of danger from handling chemotherapy is small, it is a good idea to avoid exposure.

Some chemotherapy is given as an infusion as the hospital. Other chemotherapy medicines can be taken orally, at home.

What is the best way to store chemotherapy at home?

  • Keep all chemotherapy in a locked box away from children and pets.
  • Store the locked box in a cool, dry place away from sunlight (not the kitchen or bathroom).
  • Return the medicine to the locked box after each use. Do not leave any medicine in your purse or diaper bag.

How can I protect myself and my family when giving chemotherapy at home?

  • If possible, avoid contact with chemotherapy if you are pregnant, could become pregnant, or are breast feeding.
  • Wash hands before and after handling chemotherapy.
  • Wear gloves when handling chemotherapy tablets, capsules, or liquids.
  • Wear an approved respirator mask if you need to split or open chemotherapy tablets or capsules.
  • Wear a disposable gown or covering when preparing and giving liquid chemotherapy. This will protect you in case of splashing.
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Avoid contact with the chemotherapy by wearing gloves and a face mask. Cover your clothes with a disposable gown, apron, or old oversized shirt.
  • You can buy suitable gloves and masks at most pharmacies.

How do I safely prepare a dose of chemotherapy?

Choose an uncluttered counter or table, away from windows, fans, heating ducts, and where you prepare food.

Clean and cover the counter with a disposable, plastic-backed absorbable mat. Gather the materials you need to give the medicine. Ask your pharmacist or nurse to check off the materials you need on the list below:

 Gloves

 Tweezers

 Medicine

 Masks

 Plastic spoons

 Water

 Gown

 Plastic medicine cups

 Juice

 Plastic disposable mat

 Dissolve 'n Dose®

 Food

 Pill splitter

 Sharps container

Paper towel 

 Oral syringes

 Garbage bag

 Soap

 How do I safely clean up after giving my child chemotherapy?

  • After your child takes her chemotherapy dose, fold the plastic-backed sheet and discard it in a sealed plastic bag. Clean the counter or table surface with warm soapy water. 
  • Remove disposable gloves carefully, turning them inside out and sealing them in a plastic bag.  If you used rubber gloves, wash the outside with soapy water before removing them.
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  • After removing the gloves, wash your hands, even if your skin did not make contact with the chemotherapy.
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  • Wash reusable items with warm soapy water and leave to dry. These include syringes, Dissolve ‘n Dose® device, and medicine cups. Wear gloves while washing these items. Do not use them for any other medicines.
  • Remove respirator mask using straps and discard into a sealed plastic bag.
  • If you wore a gown, remove it and discard in a sealed garbage bag.

Do I take special precautions with my child’s waste (vomit, urine, and stool) after chemotherapy?

While your child is taking chemotherapy, some of the drug is broken down and removed from the body through the urine and stool. It may also appear in the vomit. It is important that you protect yourself and others from chemotherapy in your child’s waste by following these guidelines:

  • Have supplies ready in case you need to quickly clean up any accident. You need a paper towel, soap and water, disposable gloves, and a disposable large container, such as an empty ice cream container.

  • Use a plastic mattress cover to protect the mattress from accidents.

  • Keep a plastic container close by in case of vomiting. If you use the container, empty the contents into the toilet and wash with warm soapy water.

  • If your child is toilet trained, try to reserve one bathroom in your house just for her. Have your child close the lid and flush twice after using the toilet.

  • Wear disposable gloves when you are handling any bodily wastes, such as changing soiled sheets or cleaning up vomit.

  • Wash soiled clothes or sheets separate from other laundry in the washing machine first and then wash again. If they can’t be washed right away, place them in a sealed plastic bag and set aside.

If your child wears diapers

  • Take precautions for 48 hours after your child’s last intravenous chemo; and 5 to 7 days after their last chemo dose given by mouth.

  • Wear disposable gloves to change her diaper and place diapers in a separate sealed plastic bag before disposal.

What should I do if I accidentally spill or splash the medicines or body waste?

  • Isolate the spill area and keep children and pets away.

  • Clean up the spill as soon as possible. Put on gloves. Work from the outside of the spill inward. Soak up the spill with absorbent paper towel and clean the area twice with soapy water. Then rinse the area with water. 

  • If the spill gets in your eyes, place under a water tap and flush eye with water for at least 15 minutes and contact a doctor.

  • If the spill gets on your skin, wash the area with large amounts of clean water followed by soap and water for 10 minutes. If any redness or irritation develops, contact a doctor.

  • Remove contaminated clothing and place in a tied plastic bag.

How should I dispose of chemotherapy-related garbage?

  • Dispose of all items that have been in contact with chemotherapy in a separate, sealed garbage bag. This includes opened capsule parts, leftover pills, and gloves.

  • Drop this bag at your local Household Hazardous Waste Depot. Contact your municipality for location and hours of operation. If such a service does not exist in your area, ask a member of your child’s health care team about other options.

Key points

  • Chemotherapy is a group of medicines that treat cancer.

  • Chemotherapy can damage normal cells inside the body.

  • Keep all medicines in a locked box, in a cool, dry place at home.

  • If possible, avoid contact with chemotherapy if you are pregnant, could become pregnant, or are breast feeding.

  • Wear gloves when handling chemotherapy tablets, capsules, or liquids.

  • Prepare doses of chemotherapy on an uncluttered, clean table that is away from windows, fans, heating ducts, and where you prepare food.

Elyse Zelunka BScPhm, RPh, ACPR

Tracey Taylor BScPhm, RPh, ACPR

Ann Chang RN, MN, CPON

Lisa Honeyford RN, MSN, CPON October 2010.

Drugs & Therapeutics Committee, October 2010

Haematology/Oncology Quality Utilization & Patient Care Committee, November 2010.

12/23/2010




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