• While you’re being treated for cancer, you might be given other medications as well, to help with side effects or to make you feel more comfortable
  • Medication will be prescribed by your medical team
  • If you’re in pain, feeling unwell or you notice a change in your mental health, always talk to your medical team
  • And always follow safety advice about taking and storing medication

During cancer treatment, you might experience side effects or need support for how you’re feeling.

One way that your medical team can help is through prescribing medication. They can help relieve pain, make you feel less sick, or help clear up things like infections.

Medication will be prescribed by someone in your medical team. If you’re in pain, feeling unwell or you notice a change in your mental health, make sure you talk to them. They’re there to help.

And make sure you always follow advice about taking and storing your medication.

Here are some common medications that can be prescribed during cancer treatment. This list doesn’t include every single one, so it might not include all the medications you’re currently taking. If you have questions, always ask someone in your medical team.

Steroids during cancer treatment

  • Steroids can be used to treat a few different symptoms. Some are used as part of chemotherapy and as an anti-sickness drug 
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • It’s important to have food with steroids, as they can irritate the stomach
  • Never suddenly stop taking steroids these unless someone in your medical team tells you to
  • Some common types of steroids used during cancer treatment are dexamethasone, prednisolone, and hydrocortisone

Anti-sickness medication during cancer treatment

  • Anti-sickness medication, also called anti-emetics (pronounces ant-ee-em-et-icks), are used to try and help stop nausea and vomiting
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • If the anti-sickness medication you’re taking isn’t helping, tell your medical team. Sometimes a combination of these medicines can be used
  • Some common anti-sickness medications used during cancer treatment are metoclopramide, granisetron, domperidone, ondansetron, and cyclizine

Antibiotics during cancer treatment

  • Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They can be used during cancer treatment to either clear up an infection or to stop you getting one (sometimes called prophylaxis, pronounced pro-phill-ax-iss)
  • Your medical team will tell you if you’re being prescribed antibiotics for an infection or to stop you getting one
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • If you are in hospital, some antibiotics may be given to you through your vein (called IV). This might happen if you are very unwell. You will be closely monitored during this time and may need extra blood tests to check the drug levels are right and that your kidneys are working properly
  • Sometimes people can be allergic to some antibiotics, so it’s important you tell your medical team if you know of any allergies you have. Tell your medical team right away if you’re not feeling well after taking an antibiotic, particularly if you have rash, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, swelling in your face, difficulty breathing, or wheezing
  • Some common antibiotics used in cancer treatments are co-trimoxazole, ciprofloxacin, co-amoxiclav, clarithromycin, erythromycin, tazocin, and gentamycin

Antivirals during cancer treatment

  • Antivirals are used to treat viruses. They can be used during cancer treatment to either clear up a virus or to stop you getting one (sometimes called prophylaxis, pronounced pro-phill-ax-iss)
  • Your medical team will tell you if you’re being prescribed antiviral medication for a virus or to stop you getting one
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • Some antiviral medications can be given as a cream to apply to skin, for example cream for a cold sore on your mouth. This is sometimes called topical administration.
  • Some common antiviral drugs used during cancer treatment are aciclovir and ganciclovir

Antifungals during cancer treatment

  • Antifungal medication is used to treat or prevent common fungal infections. They can be used during cancer treatment to either clear up a virus or to stop you getting one (sometimes called prophylaxis, pronounced pro-phill-ax-iss)
  • Your medical team will tell you if you’re being prescribed antifungal medication for an infection or to stop you getting one
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • If you’re prescribed ambisome, it is given by infusion into a vein, so you will need to go to hospital. The nurses will monitor you while you are on the infusion, but tell them immediately if you feel unwell or strange when the infusion begins.
  • Some common antifungal drugs used during cancer treatment are nystatin, fluconazole, and ambisome

Pain relief during cancer treatment

  • Pain relief medications are sometimes called analgesics (pronounced ann-al-gee-zicks)
  • They help reduce pain from cancer itself or the treatment for it
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • Some common over the counter pain killers may not be recommended for everyone, like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. Only use these if your medical team say so, and you have checked that you do not have a high temperature.
  • Pain relief can start as small doses that can be increased or decreased depending on your level of pain
  • Sometimes a combination of different pain killers is needed to manage the symptoms. Always talk to your medical team before taking different medication
  • Not all pain killers are in tablet form – some can be applied through gel onto the skin or can be on a ‘patch’ which sticks to the skin which is changed every few days.
  • Very strong pain killers (like morphine, or fentanyl) are opioid based, and are only available with a prescription. These can cause constipation, so you may need laxatives to help keep your bowels moving.
  • Some common pain killers used during cancer treatment are paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, codeine, co-codamol, tramadol, gabapentin, oramorph morphine (oxynorm or oxycontin), fentanyl (alfentanil), and lignocaine

Laxatives during cancer treatment

  • Laxatives help you to poo if you’re constipated
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • Some mild laxatives can be bought in chemists or supermarkets. If you use these, speak to your medical team first and get advice – sometimes they will give you a prescription for the type they think will work best for you
  • Some kinds of laxatives, called suppositories or enemas, are put directly into your back passage. They need a few minutes to work and you will need to stay near a toilet
  • Some common laxatives used during cancer treatment are lactulose, Senokot, Movicol and Laxido

Endocrine medication during cancer treatment

  • Endocrine medications work on hormone levels in the body. They are prescribed to replace hormones which your body may have stopped producing or where levels are low
  • Some drugs (like tamoxifen, or letrozole) are given to block oestrogen production in cases where the cancer has been linked to this hormone
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • Some are tablet form, and some are given through injection
  • Some common endocrine medications used during cancer treatment are thyroxine, insulin, desmopressin, testosterone, tamoxifen, letrozole, contraceptive medications, norethisterone, and erythropoietin

Antidepressants during cancer treatment

  • Antidepressants can be given if you’re experiencing a low mood, or if your anxiety levels are very high
  • If you’re already taking an antidepressant at the start of your treatment, let your medical team know so they can continue to prescribe it
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • These can be used along with other things that might help, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • It’s important to let your medical team know how you are feeling emotionally so they can help you
  • Some common antidepressants used during cancer treatment are sertraline, Prozac, and propranolol (which is a beta blocker commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, but can be prescribed in low doses for anxiety)

Sedatives during cancer treatment

  • Sedatives can be used to relax you, particularly if your anxiety levels are high and you are having trouble sleeping
  • These can also be used to help relax you before a medical procedure that you may find distressing or uncomfortable
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • Some can be taken by tablet form or by injection
  • You shouldn’t take sedatives with alcohol
  • Read the label or ask your medical team about taking sedatives if you’re also driving or working machinery while taking these medicines – you may not be able to on some medications
  • Some common sedatives used during cancer treatment are temazepam, zopiclone, midazolam, and diazepam

Anti-convulsion medication during cancer treatment

  • Anti-convulsion medication helps to control or stop seizures. They might be caused by a condition you have, like epilepsy
  • Your medical team will tell you what dose to take and for how long
  • You shouldn’t stop taking anti-convulsion medication unless someone in your medical team says so. Just because you are not having fits does not mean this condition has resolved. It’s more likely that the medication is controlling the condition
  • Some common anti-convulsion medications used during cancer treatment are lamotrigine, Epilim, Keppra, clonazepam, and phenytoin