Other ways of having chemotherapy

There are different ways of getting chemotherapy into your body. These are called routes of administration.

The best way for you depends on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • where the cancer is in the body
  • the drug or drugs you're having

Most common ways of having chemotherapy

The most common ways of getting the drugs into your body are:

  • intravenously - into the bloodstream as an injection or a drip, often using an infusion pump
  • orally - taking them as tablets or capsules

Less common ways of having chemotherapy

Here are some of the less common ways of having chemotherapy. Sometimes your doctor may need to use 2 or more methods of giving chemotherapy at the same time. 

Injections into muscle (intramuscular)

You have some chemotherapy drugs as an injection into a muscle (intramuscular). This is usually into your buttocks, upper thigh or upper arm.

You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection, but they don't usually hurt much.

Injections under the skin (subcutaneous)

Some chemotherapy is given as an injection into the layer of fat just under the skin (subcutaneously). The skin of the tummy (abdomen), thigh and upper arm are the usual areas for giving subcutaneous treatment. 

You may be able to give these injections yourself. It is important to wash your hands well before giving yourself an injection.

The video below shows you how to give an injection just under your skin. It is 3 minutes and 22 seconds long.

Chemotherapy as a cream (topical)

For some types of skin cancer, you may have chemotherapy as a cream (topically). It treats the cancer cells where you apply it. Very little of the drug is absorbed into the rest of your body.

Chemotherapy into the spinal canal (intrathecal)

For some cancers, you have chemotherapy injected into the fluid around the spine and brain. 

To have chemotherapy in this way, you have an injection into your spine, in your lower back. It is similar to having a lumbar puncture. 

Chemotherapy into an artery (intra arterial)

Intra arterial chemotherapy means having chemotherapy injected directly into arteries close to the cancer. This gives a very high dose of chemo to the tumour, but less to the rest of the body.

To have this treatment, you need to have a tube put into the artery under local anaesthetic. This is a highly specialised way of giving chemotherapy and not available in all hospitals in the UK.

Intra arterial chemotherapy is most commonly used for:

  • liver cancer
  • cancer that has spread to the liver
  • retinoblastoma

Chemotherapy into the pleura (intrapleural)

You can have chemotherapy injected directly into the space between the 2 layers of skin-like tissue covering the lungs (the pleura). This is called intrapleural chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy into the bladder (intravesical)

Intravesical means having a solution of a chemotherapy drug through a tube (catheter) into your bladder.

It gives a very high dose of chemotherapy to the tumour, but only a very low dose to the rest of the body.

Chemotherapy into the peritoneum (intraperitoneal)

The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdomen (tummy). Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is injected into the space between the peritoneum and the organs in the abdomen.

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    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg 
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • Cancer Chemotherapy: Basic Science to Clinic
    GS Goldberg and R Airley
    John Wiley and sons, 2020

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical and Cancer Nursing Procedures (10th edition, online)
    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

  • Clinical Oncology: Basic Principles and Practice (5th edition)
    P Hoskin
    Taylor and Francis, 2020

  • Cancer Chemotherapy in Clinical Practice (2nd edition)
    T Priestman
    Springer, 2012

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
12 Dec 2023
Next review due: 
11 Dec 2026

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