There are other ways you might be given chemotherapy, depending on the drugs that are being used and the type of cancer you have.
Injection into muscle or skin
Some chemotherapy drugs are given by injection into a muscle (intramuscular) of the leg or buttock. This might feel a bit painful or uncomfortable for a short time.
Some drugs are given by injection under the skin (subcutaneous) using a very fine needle.
Injection into the spinal fluid (intrathecal)
In some leukaemias, lymphoma or some brain tumours cancer cells can pass into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid or CSF).
Intrathecal chemotherapy can be used to destroy these cancer cells or to try and prevent this from happening. Chemotherapy into a vein or by mouth can’t reach these cancer cells.
Your cancer doctor and nurse will explain it all so you know what to expect. They’ll make sure you’re comfortable and you can have a relative or friend with you.
The doctor numbs an area of skin over your spine with local anaesthetic. After a few minutes they will gently insert a needle between two of the spinal bones into the CSF (called a lumbar puncture). Your doctor then injects the chemotherapy through the needle into the CSF.
The most common side effect of a lumbar puncture is a headache. To help prevent this you need to lie flat for a few hours afterwards and to drink plenty of fluids
Into a body space (intracavitary)
Chemotherapy drugs can be given into a space (cavity) in the body, such as the bladder. This can cause irritation or inflammation in the area the drugs are given but it doesn’t usually cause side effects in other parts of the body.
A fine tube (catheter) is usually inserted into the body cavity and chemotherapy is put in through this tube. It may be drained out again after a set period of time.
Into the bladder
This may be done to treat early bladder cancer. Liquid chemotherapy drugs are given directly into the bladder through a catheter, which is removed when it’s over. Our section on early (superficial) bladder cancer has more information.
Into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal chemotherapy)
This is very occasionally used to treat ovarian cancer and there’s more information in our section on ovarian cancer. It may also be used to treat mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Between the two layers of the pleura (tissue that covers the outside of the lungs)
Chemotherapy is sometimes put in between the two layers of the pleura to treat cancer cells that have spread there.
Into a limb (Isolated limb perfusion)
Chemotherapy is very occasionally given directly into the blood vessels in a limb to treat a skin cancer called melanoma that has come back.
Chemotherapy creams are used to treat some types of skin cancer. You put the cream on the affected skin in a thin layer and cover the area with a dressing. Your specialist nurse or pharmacist will show you and explain how often you apply the cream. Although the cream can irritate the skin in the area or make it sore it won’t cause side effects in other parts of the body.