Polypharmacy results in more drug interactions for patients

Taking many prescription drugs and supplements can be especially dangerous for people with cancer who are about to undergo treatment.

According to the results of a new study published in The oncologist.

However, taking multiple medications poses risks and can be difficult to manage for people without cancer as well, said Erika Ramsdale, MD, oncologist, geriatrics specialist and data scientist at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, in a statement.

“As [physicians]we say [individuals] take medication, but we don’t always do a great job of following up. From a patient’s perspective, if it’s determined that a drug is no longer needed, it’s difficult to stop taking it,” Ramsdale said.

“There’s a feeling of, ‘What if I quit?’ or ‘Are you abandoning me?’ A lot of uncertainty and emotions are tied to this issue,” Ramsdale said.

The longer the list of medications and supplements taken, the greater the risk of an individual using medications inappropriately and serious drug interactions, she said.

Because there are so many specialties in health care, this sometimes leads to additional medications being prescribed to compensate for adverse effects of the original drugs, Ramsdale said.

Investigators analyzed a national sample of 718 people with an average age of 77 who had stage 3 or 4 cancer and other common health conditions and analyzed their medication use. They studied the data to look for potentially inappropriate drugs that have higher risks than benefits, drug interactions, and drug-cancer treatment interactions. Drug interactions include effects such as falls, functional decline, and even death.

Additionally, people who take multiple medications are also more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.

Of the 718 people, 70% were at risk of drug interactions and 67% were taking at least 1 potentially inappropriate drug.

Also, about 61% of people were taking 5 or more drugs before chemotherapy, and nearly 15% were taking 10 or more drugs.

About 68% of people also had other serious health conditions besides cancer that required medication. Investigators noted that cardiovascular disease was the most common health problem. They also found that people with cancer and other health conditions are at greater risk of cancer treatment toxicity due to polypharmacy.

In addition, about 10% of hospitalizations of the elderly are associated with dangerous drug interactions. Among people with cancer receiving chemotherapy, polypharmacy is associated with dramatic increases of up to 114% in unplanned hospitalizations.

The most common potential drug interactions included cholesterol-lowering drugs, minerals, and thyroid therapies.

Additionally, more than 25% of the medications used by those in the study were non-prescription and accounted for 40% of the potentially inappropriate medications determined by the investigators.

Common non-prescription drugs included anti-anaemic preparations, such as ferrous sulfate; medicines for acid-related disorders and constipation; minerals; and vitamins.

The goal of the research is to promote a better quality of life, and researchers are conducting a clinical trial to assess how best to intervene with polypharmacy in older people with cancer.


If you are taking multiple medications, “polypharmacy” is a word to know. Science Daily. Press release. May 17, 2022. Accessed May 19, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/05/220517154614.htm

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