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Intrathecal Chemotherapy


What is intrathecal chemotherapy?

Intrathecal chemotherapy (chemo) is given to shrink a tumor or kill cancer cells in your spinal canal or brain. Intrathecal chemo is usually given in a hospital or clinic that specializes in cancer.

How is intrathecal chemotherapy given?

  • Ommaya reservoir: Chemo is given directly into your brain. The reservoir is connected to a catheter placed into a ventricle (cavity) in your brain. You will need surgery to have the Ommaya reservoir placed under your scalp. You may have a small raised area on your head where it was placed. When you receive chemo, your caregiver will place a needle into the top of the Ommaya reservoir and inject the chemo.
  • Intralumbar injection: Chemo is given as an injection into the fluid of your spinal column. The injection is usually given into the spine in your lower back.

How long will I receive intrathecal chemotherapy?

The type of cancer you have will determine how long you will need to receive intrathecal chemo. The first time you receive intrathecal chemo, you may need to stay in the hospital so caregivers can watch you closely to see how you respond to the chemo. You may get chemo every day, every week, or once or twice a month. Treatment may last for several months or longer. Chemo may be stopped for a period of time to let new, healthy cells grow.

What tests may I need while I get intrathecal chemotherapy?

You may need the following tests to monitor how the chemo is working. The tests can also show how your body is handling the chemo:

  • Blood tests: These may be done to check your blood count or to check the function of your organs. Your blood may also be tested for signs of infection.
  • Chest x-ray: This picture of your heart and lungs shows the size and location of the cancer.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures that show the size, shape, and location of the tumor. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

What are the risks of intrathecal chemotherapy?

  • You may have a severe reaction to the chemo. Intrathecal chemo may increase your risk of a severe infection in your spinal canal, brain, or other parts of your body. The chemo may not kill all the cancer cells, and cancer may spread to other places in your body. If the chemo is not given into the right area, you may need chemo for a longer period of time.
  • Treatment may cause a severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. It may also cause your eyes to be sensitive to light. It could also cause death. If you have an Ommaya reservoir, the catheter inserted into your brain may become twisted or blocked. You may need surgery to correct this.

How can I care for myself during intrathecal chemotherapy?

  • Stay away from people who are sick: This decreases your risk of infection. Ask for more instructions about how to prevent infections.
  • Drink liquids as directed: Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting from cancer treatments.
  • Eat healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Several small meals a day may be easier to eat than a few large meals.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea, are vomiting, or have no appetite for several days.
  • You are very tired and have no energy for several days.
  • You notice sores or white spots in your mouth.
  • You have constipation or diarrhea for longer than a day.
  • You feel depressed.
  • You heart beats faster than usual.
  • You have frequent, painful urination.
  • You have a cough that is new, or that does not go away within a few days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing.
  • You feel confused or have a severe headache that does not go away within a day.
  • Your arms or legs are weak, or you have trouble walking or seeing.
  • You have increased neck pain, or pain in other areas.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movements.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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