What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your doctor chooses which chemotherapy drugs you'll receive based on several factors, including:

  • Type of cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • Overall health
  • Previous cancer treatments
  • Your goals and preferences

Discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Together you can decide what's right for you.

How chemotherapy drugs are given

Chemotherapy drugs can be given in different ways, including:

  • Chemotherapy creams. Creams or gels containing chemotherapy drugs can be applied to the skin to treat certain types of skin cancer.
  • Chemotherapy drugs used to treat one area of the body. Chemotherapy drugs can be given directly to one area of the body. For instance, chemotherapy drugs can be given directly in the abdomen (intraperitoneal chemotherapy), chest cavity (intrapleural chemotherapy) or central nervous system (intrathecal chemotherapy). Chemotherapy can also be given through the urethra into the bladder (intravesical chemotherapy).
  • Chemotherapy given directly to the cancer. Chemotherapy can be given directly to the cancer or, after surgery, where the cancer once was. For instance, chemotherapy drugs can be injected into a tumor. Or thin disk-shaped wafers containing chemotherapy drugs can be placed near a tumor during surgery. The wafers break down over time, releasing chemotherapy drugs.
  • Chemotherapy infusions. Chemotherapy is most often given as an infusion into a vein (intravenously). The drugs can be given by inserting a tube with a needle into a vein in your arm or into a device in a vein in your chest.
  • Chemotherapy pills. Some chemotherapy drugs can be taken in pill or capsule form.
  • Chemotherapy shots. Chemotherapy drugs can be injected with a needle, just as you would receive a shot.

How often you receive chemotherapy treatments

Your doctor determines how often you'll receive chemotherapy treatments based on what drugs you'll receive, the characteristics of your cancer and how well your body recovers after each treatment. Chemotherapy treatment schedules vary. Chemotherapy treatment can be continuous or it may alternate between periods of treatment and periods of rest to let you recover.

Where you receive chemotherapy treatments

Where you'll receive your chemotherapy treatments depends on your situation. Chemotherapy treatments can be given:

  • At home
  • In a doctor's office
  • In the hospital
  • In an outpatient chemotherapy unit
May. 05, 2011