- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Having chemotherapy
- Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy
Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs are usually given as a liquid through a drip inserted into a vein (intravenous infusion).
Learn more about:
How is it given?
To prepare for IV chemotherapy, the treatment team will insert a narrow tube into a vein.
The drugs may be injected through a cannula or a type of central venous access device. 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.
Chemotherapy will usually be given during day visits to your hospital or treatment centre. In most cases, a single session takes from 20 minutes to several hours. For some types of cancer, a treatment session may take several days. A portable pump that you can use at home can provide a continuous dose of chemotherapy for up to a week (see below).
The infusion process may cause reactions (e.g. flushing, skin rashes, or difficulty breathing) during the session or several hours afterwards. You may be given medicines to help prevent these reactions.
How is IV chemotherapy delivered?
Central venous access device (CVAD)A thin plastic tube that remains in your vein throughout the treatment course, often for several weeks or months. It allows medical staff to give chemotherapy and other drugs, fluid or blood transfusions, and draw blood. A CVAD is inserted under local anaesthetic and it shouldn’t cause discomfort or pain.
Common types are:
CannulaA small plastic tube inserted into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand. Having a cannula put in can be uncomfortable, but it should only take a few minutes. 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.
Portable pumpA device that gives a prescribed amount of chemotherapy continuously for up to a week. It is attached to a CVAD and does not need to be connected to a power point. Different types of pumps are used (pictured left is an elastomeric infusion pump). The pumps are small and can be carried in a bag and tucked under a pillow when sleeping.
Caring for your CVAD
A nurse will show you how to look after your CVAD to prevent infection or blockage. You may visit the clinic, or a nurse may visit you at home to help clean tubes or lines. Contact your health care team immediately if there is pain, redness or swelling around the line or port.
My chemo infusions took about 8 hours because I had 2 drugs and a saline solution in between. It was a long day, sitting in the chair having infusions.Cheryl
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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