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Intravenous Chemotherapy


What is intravenous chemotherapy?

Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy (chemo) is one way to receive cancer-fighting medicine. An IV catheter may be placed in a large vein in your arm or upper chest. It is used to give the medicine into your blood. Some IV catheters can stay in place for many months to years.

What does an IV catheter look like?

Several kinds IV catheters are used to give chemo. One type, called a central venous line, has a small piece that you will be able to see and touch on the outside of your body. The other part of the IV catheter will be inside a vein in your body and you will not be able to see it. Other IV catheters, called implanted ports, are completely inside your body.

How is an IV catheter placed?

Healthcare providers may use anesthesia medicine to numb the area where the catheter is placed. You may have some discomfort after the procedure when feeling returns to the area. You may also bleed or bruise where the catheter was put in. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about this procedure.

How long will I need to have IV chemo?

The kind of cancer you have will affect how long you need to have chemo. You may have more than one medicine given at a time. You may need chemo for a few hours every day, every week, or once or twice a month. Chemo is often given in cycles. This means that you will get the medicine for a period of time, and then you will have a break from it. This allows your body to grow new, healthy cells.

Where will I go to get chemo?

You may get chemo in a hospital, a clinic, or at home. The type of chemo you need will determine where you are treated. The first time you get chemo, you will most likely be in a hospital. This way your healthcare providers can watch you closely to see how you feel during and after treatment. Your healthcare providers can then decide if any changes in the chemo need to be made. If you get your chemo at home, a healthcare provider specially trained in chemo will give it to you.

What tests or treatments may I need during chemo?

Tests will help your healthcare provider see how the chemo is working. It will also help him to see how your body is handling the chemo. Your healthcare provider may order more than one of the following:

  • Blood tests: Your healthcare provider will use these tests to check your blood cell count. You may need regular blood tests to make sure organs, such as your liver and kidneys, are working correctly. Blood tests may also show if you have an infection in your blood.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Healthcare providers may use these to take pictures of your cancer.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your cancer. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • Blood transfusion: Chemotherapy may cause your bone marrow to stop producing blood cells. You may need a blood transfusion to help replace blood cells your body cannot make.

What are the risks of IV chemo?

  • The medicine may leak from your IV. This could permanently harm your skin, vein, or the inside of your body. You could also develop an infection of your catheter or the vein where the catheter is placed. You may have an allergic reaction to the catheter and it will need to be removed. The catheter could move out of the right position, or come out completely. You may also develop blood clots from the catheter.
  • You may get a new cancer. With or without treatment, the cancer may spread and be life-threatening.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea, vomiting, or 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 1 day.
  • You bleed, bruise easily, or have small, red spots under your skin.
  • You feel depressed for several days.
  • Your heart is beating very fast.
  • You have frequent, painful urination.
  • You have a cough that is new, or that lasts longer than 1 day.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You are confused or have a severe headache.
  • You have neck pain or a stiff neck that lasts longer than 1 day.
  • You see swelling in your chest during or after you get your chemo.
  • You notice redness, drainage, or tenderness around your IV catheter site.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movement.
  • You feel dizzy or feel faint.
  • You are bleeding and cannot get the bleeding to stop.
  • You are weak in your arm or leg, or have trouble walking or seeing.
  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing.

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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