You might have chemotherapy at home if:
- you are taking tablets or capsules
- your hospital or private healthcare company has homecare chemotherapy nurses
- you are having low dose, continuous chemotherapy through a pump that you can wear at home
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 to save you going to the hospital.
Some hospitals and private healthcare companies have homecare 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.
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.
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 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 and 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 drugs. Even if you forget to take them, you should go for your appointment anyway. 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 or a book.
You'll get phone numbers to call if you have any problems when you're back at home.
What to expect from chemo
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 stay in a hotel or other residence nearby. The hospital pays for this. You then go to the day unit every day for treatment. This is called an ambulatory clinic or Ambi-care. 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 particular drug you’re having
- your doctor wants you to be monitored during the treatment, in case you have a reaction to the drug
- 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 but can then have the rest of your treatment in the chemotherapy day unit or the ambulatory clinic, if everything goes well.
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.
High dose chemotherapy
With high dose chemotherapy treatments you might 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'll be at risk of picking up infections 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 doctor, 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're taking.