Where can I have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy drugs given into a vein (intravenous) at a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. A nurse will tell you what to expect and give you the chemotherapy. You may be there for a few hours so take some things with you to help pass the time.

When you’re finished the nurse or pharmacist will give you drugs, such as anti-sickness drugs, steroids, or sometimes chemotherapy tablets, to take at home.

Some chemotherapy treatments are more complex or take longer, so you may need to stay in hospital for treatment. Your nurse will explain how long you are likely to be in for.

Occasionally, people have chemotherapy in their own home through a special pump. Or it can be given by a specialist nurse, but this service isn’t widely available.

You will be given telephone numbers to call if you feel unwell at home or need advice on side effects. Keep the numbers safe and follow the contact advice you have been given.

Where chemotherapy is given

Usually chemotherapy is given in a chemotherapy day unit or outpatient clinic. But depending on the type of chemotherapy, some people may stay in hospital to have it.

Chemotherapy day unit

Chemotherapy drugs into a vein (intravenous) are usually given to you by nurses in a chemotherapy day unit. They take blood samples, give you your chemotherapy and monitor you for side effects. They also provide information and support for you and your family.

The nurses try to make sure the unit has a calm atmosphere and the environment is comfortable. There are normally recliner chairs and some beds if you need to rest. A relative or friend can usually stay with you during your treatment. There may be volunteers who help with drinks or snacks when you need them. Some units also have complementary therapists who provide therapies such as massage and reflexology.

Having the chemotherapy drugs may take from half an hour to a few hours. But you may also have to wait for blood results, your chemotherapy drugs to be made up by the pharmacy, or to see your cancer doctor. The nurses will try to keep any waiting to a minimum.

You can take some things with you to help pass the time and feel more comfortable, such as:

  • a soft, cosy blanket or slippers
  • an MP3 player with relaxing music or relaxation techniques
  • a newspaper, some magazines, a book or an e-reader
  • snacks in case you get hungry
  • playing cards or some knitting.

After you’ve had your chemotherapy, the nurses may give you drugs to take at home or a prescription for the hospital pharmacy. This may include anti-sickness drugs, steroids or any chemotherapy tablets you need to take. Your nurse or pharmacist will explain these to you.

Chemotherapy in hospital

Some chemotherapy treatments are more complex or take longer and this may mean you need to stay in hospital to have your treatment. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain more about this.

Chemotherapy at home

Sometimes, specialist chemotherapy nurses visit people at home to give intravenous chemotherapy. If you are having chemotherapy through a pump, the nurses can come and disconnect the pump when it’s finished. This means that you don’t have to come back to the hospital.

This service is only available in some parts of the UK and only with certain chemotherapy treatments. Your cancer doctor can tell you more about this.

How to contact the hospital

You will be given telephone numbers to contact the hospital if you have a temperature, feel unwell or need advice on side effects. This should include ‘out-of-hours’ contact details for evenings, during the night or the weekend. Some cancer centres have a 24-hour number you can call at any time for advice. In Scotland, you may be given the number of the Cancer Treatment Helpline.

It’s very important to keep the numbers somewhere safe and to follow the contact advice you’ve been given by the chemotherapy nurse or cancer doctor. You could save the numbers in these places:

‘The nurses were prepared to answer the phone 24 hours a day if you had cancer-related side effects or symptoms that you didn’t understand.’ Rob

MAC11619 Understanding chemotherapy E14 July 2015

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.