What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You may have chemotherapy to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery. Or you may have it as the main treatment for cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Occasionally, you may have chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the size of the tumour. You may also have it as part of a clinical trial.

See also:


Having chemotherapy for upper urinary tract urothelial cancer (UTUC)

You may have chemotherapy for upper urinary tract urothelial cancer (UTUC) to reduce risk of cancer coming back after surgery. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. The most commonly used operation for UTUC is called a nephroureterectomy. 

Adjuvant chemotherapy starts within 3 months of your surgery. You usually have a combination of 2 drugs into a vein (intravenously).

Depending on how well your remaining kidney is working, you will have 1 of the following treatments:

You may have chemotherapy as the main treatment for cancer. This is if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and it is not possible to remove it with surgery. This is called palliative chemotherapy. You usually have 1 of the following combinations of drugs intravenously:

Rarely, a different type of chemotherapy is given directly into the ureter. This is called regional chemotherapy. A doctor may put a tube into the bladder and into the ureter. Or they may put a tube into your kidney (nephrostomy). The chemotherapy is then given through the tube.

You may have regional chemotherapy after laser treatment or after some types of surgery. Sometimes you have it if you cannot have surgery or you only have one kidney.

See also:

Side effects of chemotherapy for upper urinary tract urothelial cancer (UTUC)

Chemotherapy can cause side effects. But these can often be controlled with medicines. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain what to expect.

Tell them about any side effects you have. There are different ways to manage or treat side effects. Most side effects will go away after your treatment has finished.

We have more information about coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and about different chemotherapy drugs.

About our information

  • References
    Below is a sample of the sources used in our upper urinary tract urothelial cancer (UTUC) information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk
    European Association of Urology. Upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma guidelines. EAU Guidelines. Edn. presented at the EAU Annual Congress Copenhagen 2018. ISBN 978-94-92671-01-1. Available from www.uroweb.org/wp-content/uploads/Upper-Urinary-Tract-Urothelial-Carcinoma-large-text-V3.pdf (accessed April 2021).
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Atezolizumab for untreated PD-L1-positive locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer when cisplatin is unsuitable. Technology appraisal guidance (TA492). Published 06 December 2017. Last updated 12 July 2018. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA492  (accessed April 2021)
    Birtle A, et al. Adjuvant chemotherapy in upper tract urothelial carcinoma (the POUT trial): a phase 3, open-label, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 2020; 395, 10232, 1268-1277. Available from www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30415-3/fulltext (accessed June 2021).


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2021
Next review: 01 November 2024
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.