Where can I have chemotherapy?

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.

A 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 can give you 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 test results
  • for your chemotherapy drugs to be made up and checked by the pharmacy
  • to see your cancer doctor.

The nurses will try to make sure you do not have to wait too long.

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 have 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.

I thought the unit would be full of doom, gloom and really ill patients. It’s anything but that. The nurses were amazing – they explained everything and put us at ease.


Chemotherapy in hospital

Some chemotherapy treatments are more complicated or take longer. 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 is finished. This means you do not 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.

My husband always planned something nice after chemotherapy. That way we had the bad and the good. It distracted me.


How to contact the hospital

You will be given phone numbers to contact the hospital if you:

  • have a temperature
  • feel unwell
  • 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 is very important to keep the numbers somewhere safe and to follow the contact advice you have been given by the chemotherapy nurse or cancer doctor. You could save the numbers in:

The nurses were always prepared to answer the phone 24 hours a day, if you had side effects that you didn’t understand or couldn’t cope with. They were really helpful.


Back to Being treated with chemotherapy

How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy can be given in different ways depending on the type of cancer you have and your treatment plan.

Central lines

A central line is a long, thin hollow tube. It is inserted into a vein in your chest to give chemotherapy and other drugs.

Implantable ports

An implantable port is a tube with a rubber disc at the end. It is inserted into a vein to give chemotherapy or other medicines.

PICC lines

A PICC line is a long, thin, flexible tube known as a catheter. It is put into the arm to give chemotherapy and other medicines.

Lumbar punctures

A lumbar puncture involves inserting a hollow needle between 2 of the spinal bones. This may be used to give chemotherapy.