Lung Cancer

Lung cancer - chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs, which destroy cancer cells by damaging them so that they can't divide and grow. These drugs can also affect normal cells that are growing and dividing, and this causes side effects (see 'Side effects of chemotherapy for lung cancer'). The drugs can be given into a vein (intravenously) via a needle or orally as tablets or capsules.

There are many different chemotherapy drugs and they can be given on their own but are now more commonly given in combination.

A cycle of chemotherapy may last a few days. The number of courses given to a person depends on the type of cancer, on the response to the drugs and on the side effects of treatment. A course may be given every three weeks and up to six courses may be advised.

Before receiving chemotherapy a blood sample is taken to check the blood count and to see how well the kidneys and liver are working. If the chemotherapy has had serious side effects a course of treatment has to be postponed.

For small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy is the main treatment. In many cases chemotherapy will enable people to live for longer with better control of symptoms. It may be given on its own or before radiotherapy. 

Chemotherapy is sometimes also used for those with non-small cell lung cancer in order to control symptoms, or it may be used before surgery or radiotherapy to try to improve results which is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

It has been suggested that chemotherapy may also improve some of the symptoms of mesothelioma but as yet there is no evidence that it will prolong life.

Some patients have chemotherapy as a day treatment. One man with mesothelioma, who was taking part in a chemotherapy trial, explained what it was like on his first day of chemotherapy. He remembered the blood tests, waiting for the chemotherapy drugs to be prepared, the drip in his arm, and the camaraderie on the ward. Another person recalled the excellent care she received. However, other people were less positive about their chemotherapy, which one man found long and boring.


Describes his first day of chemotherapy.

Describes his first day of chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 61
So I started chemotherapy in, third week of October 2002. Knowing all the side effects that could crop up, and I have to say that the whole trial, the whole chemotherapy experience, it's been handled as well as it could be. I think it's horrible to start, but initially, I mean the first chemotherapy session, I went home thinking, 'What's all the fuss about?' because I'd been there at the hospital' 

You go in as a day patient, see the doctor, the doctor has a chat to make sure you're feeling fine that day. You have blood taken for blood tests to make sure that the levels of blood, red corpuscles, white corpuscles and platelets are all sufficiently high to take the chemo for that day. Those two things in place, the doctor then decides on the levels of chemotherapy. The formula is sent away to be mixed up for the individual patient. It comes back an hour or so later. I was put on the drip, and it takes, it took about three, three and a half hours that I was attached to the drip, receiving various chemicals out of a bag in the sort of top. 

But I had the chemotherapy for that day, met lots of people. Some were on their first treatment, some were on their fifth or their eighth. One person I met was sort of nearing the end of his treatment, and there's a lot of camaraderie, obviously, because although we're not all there with mesothelioma, there are others with' Some of the women are there with breast cancer, or with stomach cancer, there are so many different types of cancers and until you get into that environment you don't talk to people about cancers, it's not an everyday subject. 


Describes her chemotherapy and the excellent care she received.

Describes her chemotherapy and the excellent care she received.

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
So can you tell us about the chemo now?

Right, I used to go on Friday every three weeks and it was a whole day session there, get there for nine o'clock and they'd make sure your blood was all right, you were strong enough to take the chemo. They would order it from the pharmacy, it might take an hour to come over but you know there was all other patients in the room and I made some wonderful friends, two ladies who was there with me.

And they just put the injection in your arm, they was so gentle. And it took about, you know it was a whole day. I had, as I say I had two different chemo's and then you had to have the flush so sometimes it was six o'clock on the night before I'd get home. But I mean the nurse, they waited on you hand and foot - they brought you your dinner, cups of coffee every hour like you know because you have to, you have to go to the toilet a lot. But they just waited on you hand and foot, they were really marvellous.

So you had a drip in your arm?


Did you walk around with it?

Yes, yeah I used to go to the toilet yeah and everything yeah. Couldn't go far like you know because it was up the stairs! But yeah and I mean I sailed through the chemo, didn't have no problems, no sickness, they gave me all the right medication to come home with.

How many cycles of chemotherapy did you have?

I had six. Six session of chemo, every three weeks, yes.


Describes his experience of having chemotherapy.

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Describes his experience of having chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57

And during the day you said it was eleven hours you were having the chemotherapy?


Can you just, so did you have to sit down all that time or what?

Well you had, you were on

The drip?

The drip and you could wheel it a bit after but it wasn't very handy so most of the time you were just sat in the wee ward.  But a lot of time I spent in the reception, I was in a ward, there was a reception room and I just sat in there.

Right did you have anyone to talk to during this time?

Not a lot, sometimes you were the only one and you sat there for 11 hours.

Oh dear.

And it was a bit of a drag the 11 hours.

Yes. What sort of relationship did you have with other people in there, could you talk at all?

Not a lot. Oh you could talk, yes, but there wasn't a lot of; people I think they were more concerned with what was going on with themselves, never mind somebody else.

So there wasn't much chat?

There wasn't a lot of chat, no.

Other people stayed in hospital for a few days while having their chemotherapy, but could move around the ward with their chemotherapy drugs on a stand. They could make tea in the kitchen and walk to the toilet.


Describes what it was like having chemotherapy injected into her spine, but only the thought of...

Describes what it was like having chemotherapy injected into her spine, but only the thought of...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
And when you were actually having the chemotherapy, those three days, did you actually have to stay in the bed or could you get up and walk around?

No I was mobile, I could walk about. What happens there in the hospital bed, nobody has ever done, you go in and they get all ready, all geared up and they put the stands at the side of your bed, lift on the bags for all the stuff you're going to get and it's put into your drip and that's you mobile. And you walk about, if you go to the toilet, I just walked about the ward with that, and in my hospital they were very good, I could walk out into the kitchen, make a cup of tea, cup of coffee whatever I wanted.  I walked back into the bed, walk up to the lounge to watch the TV, so I was mobile, I wasn't athletic or anything but I was, I wasn't back prone on my bed I was mobile.

And what was it like actually being in hospital those three days?

It was very pleasant, it was very pleasant, everyone is so nice, so attentive, so kind, and they really spoil you, you know they're all over you, really. You miss the comforts of your own home and your own family that's an understatement but when you're actually in hospital there's so much going on, everything is going, you've no time to think. And you can discuss things with other patients and discuss things with nurses and the doctors and everybody is so attentive.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2016.

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