Chemotherapy | Cancer


Our nationally ranked cancer center offers extensive experience in chemotherapy, so you can feel confident in our compassionate care.

Medically reviewed on Oct. 12, 2023.

A physician wearing a mask holding the hand of a patient in a multicolored head scarf.

Destroying Cancer Cells

Chemotherapy, also known as “chemo,” is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. It can be given in many ways, including intravenously (through a vein), orally and via an injection.

At UC Davis Health, we are regional leaders in using chemotherapy to treat cancer. Our highly skilled team works together to take the best care of you.

On this page

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Chemotherapy drugs stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, which reproduce more quickly than normal cells. When a new cell forms, it goes through a series of phases known as the cell cycle.

Chemotherapy drugs target cancer cells at different phases of the cell cycle to stop or slow their growth. There are many different kinds of chemotherapy drugs, each with a unique chemical composition and varying side effects. Cancer drugs can be given:


We place a catheter into your forearm or hand using a needle. Then, we remove the needle, leaving the catheter in place. We deliver the medication through the catheter. This is the most common form of chemotherapy. It’s also known as an infusion.


We may give you a pill, capsule or liquid to swallow. You may be able to get your medication at a pharmacy and take it at home.


The drug is often delivered with a shot into your thighs, buttocks, abdomen or arm. The shot is injected under the skin or in a muscle. Sometimes, we inject into an artery, a blood vessel that transports blood from your heart to other parts of your body.


Less commonly, chemo drugs may be given as a topical (for example, a cream that you rub onto your skin). You pick up your medication at the pharmacy and use it at home.

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



UC Davis Health Referring Physicians

For providers in UC Davis Medical Group or our Cancer Care Network

External Referring Physicians

For providers who are external clinicians

Preparing for Intravenous (IV) Chemotherapy

We recommend getting a good night's sleep the day before treatment and eating a light meal before you come in. At your first appointment, your nurse will review your treatment plan and discuss your medications and potential side effects. Here's what to bring to your appointment:

  • Patient in the hospital bed holding the hand of a loved one.

    Devices, Books or a Friend

    We have free Wi-Fi, so you’re welcome to bring a device to watch movies or play games. Just be sure to bring headphones so you don’t disturb other patients. You could also bring a book or even a friend or family member (age 13 or older).

  • Snack plate with various fruits and nuts.

    Bring Something to Eat

    You may want to bring a meal or snack for infusions that last a few hours. We have a microwave to warm up meals, but we do not have a refrigerator, so bring an ice pack or cooler for cold foods. Visitors are allowed to bring you food from outside, as long as it isn’t too fragrant. Strong smells can cause nausea in other patients.

  • Young patient receiving treatment in a hospital bed.

    Comfortable Clothes

    Wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment so we can easily insert your IV catheter. We recommend dressing in layers and bringing a cozy blanket in case the room is too cold or too hot.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemo attacks cancer cells and healthy cells because it is a systemic treatment, meaning it travels throughout the body. When healthy cells are damaged, it can lead to side effects like fatigue and nausea. Our care team will do their best to help you manage your symptoms, which may include:


The most common side effect of chemotherapy, fatigue, refers to feeling exhausted or worn out even when you’ve had enough sleep.


Chemotherapy can cause aches and pains such as muscle pain, headaches, stomach pain and nerve damage pain, which may feel like numbness or burning, usually in the fingers and toes.

Hair Loss

Certain types of chemotherapy can cause hair loss, which usually begins after the first several weeks of treatment. Your doctor may be able to predict your risk of hair loss based on the drugs and doses you receive.

Awards and Recognitions
USNWR Best Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best hospital in cancer, cardiology, heart & vascular surgery, diabetes & endocrinology, ENT, geriatrics, neurology & neurosurgery, obstetrics & gynecology, and pulmonology & lung surgery.

Learn more
US News & World Report best Children’s Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best children’s hospital in diabetes & endocrinology, nephrology, and orthopedics*. (*Together with Shriners Children’s)

Learn more
USNWR best regional hospital badge

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital by U.S. News, and high-performing in COPD, colon cancer surgery, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, hip fracture, hip replacement, kidney failure, leukemia, lymphoma & myeloma, lung cancer surgery, ovarian cancer surgery, pneumonia, prostate cancer surgery, stroke, TAVR, uterine cancer surgery, gastroenterology & GI surgery, and orthopedics.

Learn more
Magnet designation badge

The nation’s highest nursing honor

UC Davis Medical Center has received Magnet® recognition, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence.

Learn more
Chime acute badge

“Most Wired” for acute care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
Chime ambulatory badge

“Most Wired” for ambulatory care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
NCI badge

World-class cancer care

One of ~56 U.S. cancer centers designated “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute.

Learn more

A leader in health care equality

For the 13th consecutive year, UC Davis Medical Center has been recognized as an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader by the educational arm of America’s largest civil rights organization.

Learn more
See more