Tablets, suppositories, and patches

There are different ways of having medicines.

Tablets or capsules

Some cancer drugs come as tablets or capsules that you swallow.

Only your cancer specialist should prescribe cancer drug tablets or capsules. You must take them at the right times, as directed by your doctor, specialist nurse or pharmacist. If you have problems swallowing, some medicines are available in other preparations.

Soluble or fizzy (effervescent) tablets

Some tablets can be dissolved in water. It forms a fizzy drink that you can drink. You can have some painkillers in this way.

Tablets you dissolve in your mouth

Some drugs are available as a tablet that dissolves. You can put them on your tongue, and when they dissolve, you swallow them. This can be helpful if you have swallowing problems. You can have some anti sickness medicines in this way.

There are other drugs that you put under your tongue (sublingual) or between your gum and inside of the mouth (buccal). You leave the drug there to dissolve. You can have some painkillers or anti sickness in this way.

Chewable tablets

Some tablets, such as anti acid tablets for heartburn, are chewable. This makes it easier to swallow as well. It is important not to chew any tablets unless your pharmacist tells you to.


You can have some medicines as liquids if you can’t swallow tablets or capsules. Liquids can be clear or thick (viscous). Always check the label on the bottle for how to store liquid medicines safely once you have opened it.

Lozenges or pastilles

Some medicines come in a solid shape, like a hard boiled sweet or lollipop. These can be, for example, certain painkillers. A lozenge or pastille has a single dose of the medication you need.

You have to suck on the lozenge as told by your healthcare team until it has completely dissolved. This will give you the full dose of the medication. Do not chew the lozenge.


Suppositories are small, smooth and slightly pointed wax objects that contain drugs. The suppository goes into your back passage, where the wax melts and releases the drug.

The lining of the back passage absorbs drugs quickly. It is a very efficient way of taking them. Unfortunately, taking a drug this way is frightening and embarrassing for many people. It can be uncomfortable, but you can do it yourself if you don't like the idea of someone else doing it.

Your nurse can give you suppositories. Or they can give you a disposable glove and some lubricating gel and explain what you must do.

Stick on skin patches

You can have some drugs as patches stuck onto the skin. HRT and nicotine patches are the best known examples. You can also have some painkillers and anti sickness medicines this way.

You stick the patches onto your skin like a plaster. Do not stick it to irritated or hairy skin areas. The drug is inside the patch and slowly passes through your skin into your body. It is important to remember that heat increases the absorption from the patch. So, for example, sitting close to a warm radiator can increase the amount of drug that passes through your skin into the body.

The patches can last for a few days depending on the type of medicine it contains. You throw away the old patch each time you change it. They are waterproof, so you can shower, bathe or swim while wearing them.


Breaking or crushing tablets

Do not break or crush tablets or open capsules if you have trouble swallowing. Speak to your pharmacist first.

Storing medicines

It is important to keep your medicines in their original packaging. You must store them safely, away from children, as they could harm children.

Store your medicines as directed by a pharmacist. You may need to keep them at room temperature and away from heat and direct sunlight. Some you may need to keep in the fridge. Speak to your pharmacist if you've stored a drug incorrectly by mistake.

Disposing of medicines

It is important to take any unused medicines back to the pharmacy. They can destroy them safely. Don't flush them down the toilet or throw them away.

If you forget to take it

Don't take a double dose if you forget to take a medicine. Tell your healthcare team and follow your usual dose schedule.

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