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- Chemotherapy treatment explained
- Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy
Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs are most commonly given as a liquid through a drip inserted into a vein (intravenous infusion).
Learn more about:
- How is it given?
- Infusion reactions
- Ways of injecting drugs
How is it given?
Chemotherapy will usually be given during day visits to your hospital or treatment centre. Sometimes it is given through a portable pump that you can use at home. A single session could take from 20 minutes to several hours.
Some people can react to the infusion process (e.g. flushing, skin rashes, difficulty breathing, anxiety). You will be monitored and may be given medicine to help prevent this. Reactions can occur during or several hours after the infusion. They are more common with the first infusion, so it may be given more slowly than later treatments.
Ways of injecting drugs
To prepare for IV chemotherapy, the treatment team will insert a narrow tube into a vein. The type of device used will depend on how often you need chemotherapy, how long it will take to give each dose and how long the device will need to stay in place.
A cannula is a small plastic tube inserted into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand and taped securely into place. Having a cannula put in can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t take too long. The cannula can be kept in place if you need to stay in hospital for a few days. If you have day treatment every few weeks, the cannula is usually put in and taken out each time you visit.
A CVAD is a thin plastic tube that remains in your vein throughout the course of treatment, often for several weeks or months. It allows medical staff to give chemotherapy and other drugs, fluid or blood transfusions, and draw blood. Inserting a CVAD takes only a few minutes under local anaesthetic, and it shouldn’t cause discomfort or pain. Common types are:
- Hickman line – inserted into the chest
- PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line – inserted into the arm
- port-a-cath (port) – a small device inserted under the skin of the chest or arm. You may have a port for months to years.
This device is programmed to give a prescribed amount of chemotherapy continuously for up to a week. The pump does not need to be connected to a power point and is usually attached to a central line. It is quite small and can be carried in a bag or belt holster and tucked under a pillow when sleeping.
Caring for your line or port
Before you go home, a nurse will show you how to look after your line or port to prevent infection or blockage. You may visit the clinic or a nurse may regularly visit you at home to help clean all tubes or lines. For some lines, it’s important to keep the area dry when showering or bathing.
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have pain, discomfort, redness or swelling around the line or port. If there are signs of an infection, you will be given medicine and the device may need to be replaced.
I wasn’t too keen when they recommended a port, but it’s been terrific. The chemo sessions are much easier and I can go swimming again a day or two after treatment.Andrew
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Clinical A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Stacey Burton, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Steve Higgs, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
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