Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer, it uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given for a number of different reasons / aims such as

  • to try to cure cancer
  • to try and prevent it from recurring (coming back)
  • to reduce the cancer as much as possible before another treatment such as surgery
  • to help relieve the symptoms of cancer and improve quality of life
  • to help to control the cancer so that you can live longer with it

Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells wherever they may be in your body. Normal cells can also damaged by chemotherapy. This can cause side effects. These normal cells can usually repair themselves, but cancer cells cannot. As the normal cells recover, the side effects usually get better.

Chemotherapy drugs are given in a number of different ways

  • tablets that you swallow
  • injections under the skin (sub-cutaneous injections)
  • injections into a vein (intravenous). These treatments may be a short injection lasting a couple of minutes or infusions of treatments over a number of hours
  • injections into your spinal fluid (intrathecal)

Most chemotherapy treatment is given as a day case in one of our chemotherapy day units at 

  • Sunderland Royal Hospital               
  • South Tyneside Hospital
  • Washington Primary Care centre

Sometimes more intensive chemotherapy needs to be given as an in-patient (for some Haematology cancers), this is given on Ward B28 at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

Chemotherapy treatment may be one drug or a number of drugs given together, these drugs may be given to you on a number of occasions over a few weeks or months, but can sometimes be given over a number of years.

If Chemotherapy is an option for you, you will be referred to an Oncologist (a doctor specialising in Chemotherapy), you will be given some written information about this treatment and your Oncologist will talk you through a consent form. You will be asked to sign this consent form and you will be given a copy to keep. You will see a Chemotherapy specialist nurse who will then go into more detail about what to expect during treatment.

You might want to ask your oncologist or specialist nurse

  • what your Chemotherapy is aiming to do?
  • how you can prepare for your Chemotherapy?
  • what side effects or complications could happen and what you should do?
  • how you will recover following Chemotherapy?
  • how long treatment will last?
  • whether you will need any extra help at home during this treatment?
  • how you will know whether the treatment is working?


These videos have been filmed by our Oncology team.


Central lines

Central lines 
In order to give you your chemotherapy safely or if it is difficult to put a cannula into your vein your doctor or nurse may recommend a semi-permanent central line. This can stay in for a number of months while you have your chemotherapy treatment and can often be used to take blood samples also.

There are different types of Central line
-    Central venous catheter (often called a Hickman line)
A Hickman line is a long rubber tube that is inserted into a vein in the neck and down to the large vein outside of the heart, the other end is then tunnelled under the skin and brought out onto the chest. Hickman lines are inserted by our very experienced anaesthetists in theatre. You don’t need a general anaesthetic that will put you to sleep, but local anaesthetic will be given. 

-    Peripherally inserted Central Catheter (PICC)
A PICC line is a long that is introduced into a vein in your arm and threaded through the vein until the tip sits outside of your heart. PICC lines are inserted by a specially trained nurse or anaesthetist.

Your Hickman line or PICC  needs to be cleaned and flushed regularly to keep it in good working order and we can teach you or a family member to look after your line or a District Nurse can help with this care.

Problems with your Central line
It is possible for an infection to develop inside your central line, if you notice any signs of an infection you should contact the telephone number given by your chemotherapy nurse or attend the Emergency department (ED). Infections in central lines are treated with infections, but if the infection does not improve sometimes we need to remove the line.
Signs of an infection
-    Redness, swelling or heat in the area of the line
-    Discoloured fluid coming from the area or on the dressing
-    A high temperature

Blood clots
Occasionally a blood clot can develop in the vein around your central line. If this happens you will be given medication to dissolve the clot which you will need to take for a number of months, sometimes we need to remove the line if a blood clot develops.
Signs of a blood clot
-    Swelling, redness or pain in the arm, chest or neck on the side of your body where your line is placed.
-    A swollen hand (on the side where your PICC line is)
-    Shortness of breath
-    Chest tightness

Break or tear in the line
Please be careful with your line and do not use scissors or anything sharp around the line. Very occasionally the line may tear or get cut, if this happens you need to clamp the line, you may be able to do this by tying a knot in the line or clamping with a clean clothes peg or something similar. You will need to contact the telephone number given by your chemotherapy nurse and your line will need to be removed.

Line fallen out
Very occasionally the line may fall out. If this occurs you don’t need to worry, the vein itself will close quickly you just need to apply some pressure to the skin where your line was to stop any bleeding. If the bleeding does not stop after 10 mins you will need to contact the telephone number given by your chemotherapy nurse. In the unlikely event of a lot of bleeding you would need to attend the emergency department (ED)
Please inform your chemotherapy nurse that you line has fallen out.

This website provides some more information about central lines and a video explaining what a line is and how this is inserted.

This website provides some more information about PICC lines and a video explaining what a line is and how this is inserted.