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Cancer patients taking 10 or more different drugs every day

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Around 15 percent of cancer patients are taking 10 or more medications even before they start chemotherapy.

Once chemo starts, the patient can suffer serious toxic reactions to the drug combinations, say researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Centre.  Polypharmacy—where many drugs are taken at the same time—increases the rate of emergency hospital care by around 114 percent.

The most dangerous drug combinations are statins with minerals and thyroid medications, the researchers say.  Most cancer patients are already taking multiple drugs, most commonly for heart disease, and more than 60 percent were taking five or more medications.

The researchers analysed data from 718 people, with an average age of 77, who had stage 3 or 4 cancer.  Around 70 percent were at risk of a serious reaction to polypharmacy and 67 percent were taking at least one drug that wasn’t necessary.

Some of the drugs were over-the-counter (OTC) remedies that don’t need a prescription, such as antacids for indigestion, antihistamines for allergic reactions and remedies for constipation.

One problem is that patients feel they need to keep taking a drug that’s been prescribed long after the problem has passed.  “As doctors, we tell people to take medications, but we don’t always do a great job of following up,” said Erika Ramsdale, an oncologist who led the research.

(Source: The Oncologist, 2022; doi: 10.1093/oncolo/oyac053)

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