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Chemotherapy can be carried out in many different ways, depending on your circumstances.
This page covers:
If you're diagnosed with cancer, you'll be cared for by a team of specialists. Your team will recommend chemotherapy if they think it's the best option for you, but the final decision is yours.
Making this decision can be difficult. You may find it useful to write a list of questions to ask your care team before discussing your options.
For example, you may want to find out:
If you agree with your team's recommendation, they'll start to plan your treatment once you've given your consent to treatment.
Before chemotherapy begins, you'll have tests to check your general health and make sure the treatment is suitable for you.
The tests you'll have may include:
Tests will also be carried out during treatment to monitor your progress.
Chemotherapy involves several treatment sessions, typically spread over the course of a few months.
Before treatment starts, your care team will draw up a plan that outlines:
Your treatment plan will depend on things such as the type of cancer you have and what the aim of treatment is.
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In most cases, chemotherapy is given directly into a vein. This is known as intravenous chemotherapy.
This usually involves medicine being given slowly from a bag of fluid that's attached with a tube to one of your veins.
This can be done using:
The time it takes to have a dose of intravenous chemotherapy can range from several hours to several days. You usually come into hospital for the treatment and go home when it's finished.
Sometimes it may be possible to have chemotherapy tablets. This is known as oral chemotherapy.
You'll need to come into hospital at the start of each treatment session to get the tablets and have a check-up, but you can take the medicine at home.
Make sure you follow the instructions given by your care team. Taking too much or too little medicine may reduce its effectiveness and could be dangerous.
Contact your care team if you have any problems with your medicine, such as forgetting to take a tablet or being sick shortly after taking one.
Less commonly, chemotherapy may be given as:
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During chemotherapy treatment, there are a number of important things to bear in mind.
Chemotherapy can causes a range of unpleasant side effects, including:
But there are often things you or your care team can do to prevent or reduce these. Read about the side effects of chemotherapy for more about this.
Women should avoid becoming pregnant while having chemotherapy, as many chemotherapy medicines can cause birth defects.
Use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, and contact your care team immediately if you think you may have become pregnant.
Men having chemotherapy should use condoms throughout their course of treatment, even if their partner is taking contraception.
Cancer Research UK has more information about sex and chemotherapy.
While you're having chemotherapy, check with your care team before you take any other medication – including over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies.
Other medicines could react unpredictably with your chemotherapy medication, which may affect how well it works and could cause dangerous side effects.
Some people decide that the benefits of chemotherapy aren't worth the poor quality of life, due to the side effects.
If you're struggling with the treatment and are having doubts about whether to continue, it's a good idea to speak to your care team. It might also help to discuss things with your, family, friends and loved ones.
Your care team can give you advice about the likely benefit of continuing with treatment, but the final decision will be yours. You have the right to refuse treatment or to ask for it to be stopped if you don't feel it's helping.
Stopping chemotherapy doesn't mean you won't receive any treatment. Your care team will still provide support and relief for your symptoms. This is known as end of life or palliative care.
Read more about end of life care.