Treatment cycles and courses of treatment

Cancer drugs such as chemotherapy are usually given in cycles over several months. A series of cycles is called a course of treatment.

Treatment cycles

You usually have cancer drug treatment in cycles. A cycle means that you have a single cancer drug or a combination of drugs and then have a rest to allow your body to recover. 

You might have some chemotherapy injections over a day or two and then have some time with no treatment. The treatment and rest time make up one treatment cycle. When you get to the end of the cycle, it starts again with the next cycle. 

If you're having some cancer drugs as tablets you might take them every day for the whole cycle, or just for a few days or weeks and then have a rest period.

Length of treatment cycles

Depending on the drug or combination of drugs, an individual treatment may last from a few hours to a few days. Your treatment cycles might be weekly or might take 2, 3 or 4 weeks, depending on the drugs and your particular treatment plan. Some treatment cycles are quite complicated. 

Courses of treatment

A series of cycles of treatment is called a course. A treatment course often takes between 3 to 6 months but it can be more or less than that.

During that time, you would probably have between 4 to 8 cycles of treatment.

More information

We have more information on treatment and support if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2018

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

Last reviewed: 
19 Dec 2019

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