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Where you have chemotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer   

This page gives information about where you have chemotherapy. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Where you have chemotherapy depends on the type of chemotherapy and what care and support you need when you are having it.

Chemotherapy at home

You may have chemotherapy at home if

  • You are taking tablets or capsules
  • Your hospital or private healthcare company has home chemotherapy nurses
  • You are having continuous, low dose chemotherapy through a pump that you can wear at home

Chemotherapy at the hospital

If you are having chemotherapy into a vein you usually have it either at a chemotherapy day clinic or as an inpatient. Having chemotherapy in the day clinic can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours.

Some chemotherapy treatments mean a short stay in hospital. This is usually because

  • You need to have the treatment slowly
  • You need to have extra fluids through the drip along with the drug
  • You need to be monitored during the treatment

If you are having high dose chemotherapy treatment you may need to stay in hospital for longer, perhaps for a few weeks. This is because the treatment is more intensive and has more side effects. Staying in hospital means that your doctor or nurse can pick up and treat any problems quickly, including infections.

PDF Download symbol You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About Chemotherapy section.

 

Having chemotherapy at home

If your chemotherapy drug comes as tablets or capsules that you swallow, you can take them at home. You will need to have regular visits to the hospital outpatient department for blood tests and check ups. You may be able to have blood tests at your GP surgery to save you going to the hospital. Some hospitals and private healthcare companies have home chemotherapy nurses, who will come to your home to give you your treatment. Sometimes you may need to have the first dose in hospital to make sure you don't have a reaction to the drug.

If you are having continuous, low dose chemotherapy you may have a pump that you can wear at home. They are fitted at the hospital and are about the size of a small bottle of water. The pump gives a constant dose of chemotherapy into your bloodstream 24 hours a day. You only have to go back to the hospital after a few days or a week to have the pump changed or removed or a district nurse can change it in your home.

Photograph of a continuous pressure pump for chemotherapy

 

Chemotherapy in the day clinic

If your chemotherapy is given into a vein it is usually done in the chemotherapy day case clinic or on a day ward. Below is a 360° photograph of a chemotherapy day clinic. If you can't see the photograph, you can download the Adobe Flash Player from the Adobe website. Use the arrows to move the picture and look around the room.

Having chemotherapy in the day clinic can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours through a drip. You may have your chemotherapy given through a

  • Cannula –  a small tube put into a vein in your hand or arm and used for chemotherapy drugs that can be given fairly quickly
  • Central line – a tube which is put into a vein in your neck (short term) or chest (long term) 
  • PICC line – a type of central line that is put into a vein in your arm
  • Portacath or port – a small chamber that sits under your skin at the end of the central line in your chest 

You are usually at the hospital for a few hours. Before you can have your treatment you have to have blood tests.The results need to have come through to make sure it is safe for you to have treatment. Also, chemotherapy drips are made by the pharmacist for each person. They usually do this once the blood test results have come through. The amount of chemotherapy in the drip is individual for you and is worked out based on how much you weigh, your height and your general health. 

You may need to take some tablets before you go into the hospital such as anti sickness drugs which you will be given. If you forget to take them still go for your appointment and tell the nurse when you arrive. 

You usually have treatment while sitting in a chair. As you will be in the day clinic for a few hours it is a good idea to take things to do while you are there such as newspapers or a book. You will be given telephone numbers to use if you have any problems at home.

View a transcript of this video here.

If you need treatment for a few days but don’t need to stay in the hospital you may stay in a hotel or other residence near the hospital paid for by the hospital. You then go to the day clinic everyday for treatment. You will have a contact number if you need help or advice. This is called an ambulatory clinic or Ambi-care. How you have treatment will depend on the type of chemotherapy you are having. You may have your treatment into a vein through a portable pump.

 

Chemotherapy in hospital

Some chemotherapy treatments mean a short stay in a hospital ward – perhaps overnight or for a couple of days. This is usually either because

  • The drug has to be given slowly in a very controlled way
  • You need to have fluids through a drip for a few hours before or after the particular drug you are having
  • Your doctor wants you to be monitored during the treatment, in case you have a reaction to the drug

The photo below shows a nurse setting up chemotherapy through a hospital style pump. The pump very carefully controls the rate you have the chemotherapy. Your nurse sets the pump to give your treatment at exactly the right rate.

Photograph showing a nurse setting up an IV pump that you have in hospital

With some treatment, you may have the one treatment in hospital. But you may then be able to have the rest of your treatments in the chemotherapy day  clinic or the ambulatory clinic, if everything goes well.

 

High dose chemotherapy

With high dose chemotherapy treatments you may need to stay in hospital for longer, perhaps a few weeks. This is because the treatment is more intensive and has more side effects. You will be at risk of picking up infections for a few weeks after treatment. You need to be in hospital so that any infections can be picked up and treated quickly.

 

Where to get information about your chemotherapy

You can find more information about the individual drugs and the combination regimens in the individual cancer drugs section. Your doctor, chemotherapy day clinic pharmacist, chemotherapy nurse or clinical nurse specialist should explain exactly what your treatment involves before it starts. Ask them if there is anything about your treatment that is not clear to you. You can also ask them for any written information about the drugs you are being given.

If you would like more information about anything to do with chemotherapy, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 19 March 2013