Chemotherapy is a life-saving treatment for many cancer patients, but many of us might not know that some cancers can be treated with oral chemotherapy through pills a patient takes at home.

Now, a new study shows that despite the benefits, some patients don’t always take their medications as prescribed.

Deborah Tippett is a retired professor, world traveler, and ballroom dancer, and for the second time in 13 years, she’s battling cancer.

“Doctors found in a routine exam, a little abnormality, which they decided to test,” said Deborah Tippett

When Tippett had lymphoma years ago, treatment meant trips to a clinic and IV chemo.

“Sometimes, it would be 10 hours by the time I met with the doctor, had my blood work and had the treatment,” Tippett added.

This time, Tippett’s doctor had a lab test her tumor for genetic mutations and found an oral anti-cancer treatment that could work for her ovarian cancer. Duke GYN oncologist Brittany Davidson studies cancer patients and how they fare with this treatment at home.

“Several of my partners said, ‘well, it’s not going to be a problem. These patients have cancer, so, of course, they’re going to take their treatment,’’” said Brittany Davidson, MD, GYN oncologist, Duke University.

In a survey of 100 cancer patients taking oral anti-cancer treatment, Dr. Davidson found 50% of patients took their medication exactly as prescribed, the right amount, at the exact time, under the correct conditions.

However, 25% missed at least one dose in a week, and another 25% missed more than one dose.

“This tells us that adherence is still a problem,” Dr. Davidson added.

Earlier research suggested that side effects, patient support at home, and finances can all impact home treatment. Tippett and Dr. Davidson worked with the pharmaceutical company so she could afford her drug, Mekinist, and Tippett builds her day around medication time so that she never misses a dose. 

“I know that that’s the first thing I do when I get out of bed,” said Tippett.

Tippett is back on her toes these days, feeling more like herself again.

“I’m just grateful to be living in a time where I could have all these options,” Tippett added.