Where you have chemotherapy

You might have chemotherapy:

  • at home
  • in a chemotherapy day unit or ambulatory unit
  • in hospital
  • a combination of these

Having chemotherapy at home

You might have chemotherapy at home if:

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

Tablets or capsules

You can take chemotherapy tablets or capsules at home. You’ll still need to visit the hospital outpatient department regularly for blood tests and check ups. You might be able to have the blood tests at your GP surgery or local clinic to save you going to the hospital.

Home care nurses

Some hospitals and private healthcare companies have home care chemotherapy nurses. These nurses will come to your home to give you your treatment. You might need to have the first dose in hospital, to make sure you don't have a reaction to the drug.

Through a pump

You might have continuous, low dose chemotherapy through a pump. The pump is about the size of a small water bottle. You have it fitted at the hospital.

The pump gives a constant dose of chemotherapy into your bloodstream 24 hours a day. You 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 showing a continuous pressure pump for chemotherapy
A continuous pressure pump

Chemotherapy in a day unit

If you have chemotherapy into a vein, you'll usually have it in the chemotherapy day unit.

Having chemotherapy in the day unit can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours through a drip. You might have your treatment through a:

  • cannula - a small tube put into a vein in your arm and used for chemotherapy drugs that you can have 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

What to expect

You will usually see the doctor or specialist nurse and have a blood test before each treatment. The doctors and pharmacists need to see the results to check that it's safe for you to have treatment.

The amount of chemotherapy in the drip is individual for you. It is worked out based on your weight, height and general health. 

You might need to take some tablets before you go into the day unit, such as anti sickness medicines. If you forget to take them, you should still go for your appointment. Tell the nurse when you arrive. 

You usually have treatment while sitting in a chair. As you'll be in the day unit for a few hours, it's a good idea to take things to do. You might like to take some newspapers, a book or an electronic device to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

You'll get phone numbers to call if you have any problems when you're back at home.

When you need a few days of treatment

You might need chemotherapy for a few days in a row, but not need to stay in hospital. In this case you might go home each evening. Or you might stay in a hotel or other residence nearby, which the hospital pays for. You then go to the day unit every day for treatment. This is called an ambulatory clinic. You'll have a contact number to call if you need help or advice.

How you have treatment will depend on the type of chemotherapy you're having. You may have it into a vein through a portable pump.

Chemotherapy in hospital

You might need to stay in hospital overnight or for a couple of days. This is usually if:

  • you need to have the drug in a very slow, controlled way
  • you need to have fluids through a drip for a few hours before or after the chemotherapy drug you’re having
  • your doctor wants you to be monitored during the treatment, in case you have a reaction to the chemotherapy
  • you need to have the drug a number of times a day for a couple of days in a row

In some cases, you might have the first treatment in hospital. You can have the rest of your treatment in the chemotherapy day unit or the ambulatory clinic, if everything goes well.

Intense chemotherapy treatment

You might need intense chemotherapy treatment if you are having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. If you have intense treatment you might need to stay in hospital for longer. This could be a few weeks. 

You'll be at risk of getting an infection for a few weeks after treatment. You need to be in hospital, so infections can be picked up and treated quickly.

Where to get information about your chemotherapy

Your healthcare team 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're taking.

  • Ambulatory chemotherapy: past, present and future
    RS Dit Hawasli, S Barton and S Nabhani-Gebara
    Journal of Oncology Pharmacy Practice, 2021. Volume 27. Page 962-973

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

  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    R T Skeel and S N Khleif
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

Last reviewed: 
28 Nov 2023
Next review due: 
27 Nov 2026

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