Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.
What do I need to know about intravenous (IV) chemotherapy (chemo)?
IV chemo is medicine used to shrink a tumor or kill cancer cells. IV chemo is injected into your blood through an IV. Chemo can help cure cancer, prevent cancer from spreading, and relieve symptoms caused by cancer. You may be given 1 or more types of chemo. You may get chemo at home, in your healthcare provider's office, in a clinic, or in a hospital.
What will my chemo schedule be?
How often and how long you get chemo will depend on the type of cancer you have. It will also depend on the type of chemo you need, side effects, and how well the chemo works. You may get chemo once a day, week, or month. Chemo is often given in cycles over a period of several months or more. 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.
How will IV chemo be given to me?
- IV push chemo is given from a syringe into your IV. It may take 10 to 15 minutes to get all of the chemo.
- An infusion of chemo may last from 30 minutes to a few hours. During an infusion, medicine is given from a bag through tubing that it attached to your IV. A pump controls how fast you get the chemo.
- A continuous infusion of chemo may last from 1 to 7 days. This type of infusion is controlled by an electronic IV pump. You can wear the pump on your belt or on a strap.
What else do I need to know about chemo?
Chemo may leak from your vein and damage your blood vessels and skin. Chemo may damage your kidneys, liver, heart, or other organs. You may have an allergic reaction to chemo. This may become life-threatening. Your risk for infection and bleeding are increased during chemo treatment. You may have problems getting pregnant or getting your partner pregnant after you have chemo. You may need more than 1 cycle of chemo to treat your cancer.
What do I need to know about side effects of chemo?
Chemo can damage healthy cells in your digestive system, bone marrow, and mouth. Chemo may also attack your hair follicles. This attack or damage is what causes side effects. You may or may not have side effects from chemo. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine to prevent certain side effects. Side effects may depend on the type of chemo that you are given. Common side effects of chemo include the following:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Hair loss, including loss of eyelashes, eyebrows, and body hair
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
- Poor appetite or changes in taste
- Neuropathy (numbness, tingling, or pain) in your hands or feet that may go away between doses or worsens as treatment continues
- Problems with memory or concentration
- Dry skin, changes in skin color, or easy bruising
- Weight loss or gain
What other tests or treatments may I need?
- Medicines may be given to help manage side effects of chemotherapy. This may include medicines to decrease nausea and vomiting, or to manage pain. A medicine used to treat anxiety and depression is sometimes helpful for peripheral neuropathy caused by chemo. This is a condition that affects nerves in your arms, legs, hands, or feet. You may also need medicine to prevent an infection.
- Your healthcare provider will order tests to check how the chemo is working. Tests will also check for problems that chemo may cause. Blood and urine tests are used to check your blood cell levels, kidney function, and liver function. X-ray, CT, or MRI pictures will show if your tumor has shrunk. These tests will also show if cancer has spread to other places in your body.
- You may need a blood transfusion or medicine to make healthy cells. Chemo may prevent your bone marrow from making healthy blood cells. A blood transfusion is used to replace blood cells that your bone marrow cannot make. You may also need medicine to help your bone marrow make healthy cells.
- Your healthcare provider will check for hepatitis B (HBV) infection. If tests show you have chronic HBV, you will be given antiviral medicine. You will take the medicine before chemo starts and continue for at least 12 months after chemo ends. The medicine helps lower the risk that the virus will become active again. If tests show you have no HBV infection, you may be given medicine to prevent hepatitis B.
Can I take my regular medicines or vitamins during chemo?
Show your healthcare provider a list of everything that you currently take. Ask him or her if it is safe for you to take your regular medicines, vitamins, or supplements during chemo. Some may prevent chemo from working correctly.
What can I do to care for myself during chemo?
- Rest as needed. You may feel tired for a few days after getting chemo. Return to activities slowly. Do more as you feel stronger.
- 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.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Liquids will help prevent dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
- Prevent infection. Stay away from people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and ask visitors to wash their hands. Ask family and friends not to visit if they are sick. Do not spend time in crowded places such as movie theaters, malls, or elevators. Ask your healthcare provider if you need vaccines.
- Manage hair loss. Use mild shampoos if your hair begins to thin or fall out. Use a soft bristled brush to comb your hair. If you lose your hair, wash your scalp with moisturizing shampoos or conditioners. Apply lotion and massage your scalp after a shower. Use sunscreen, a hat, a scarf, or a wig to protect your scalp from the sun. Ask your healthcare provider where you can purchase a wig or hair piece.
- Work with your healthcare provider to manage side effects. Always tell your healthcare provider if you have side effects. Take medicines that manage side effects as directed. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on how to manage certain side effects.
Where can I find more information and support?
It may be difficult for you and your family to go through cancer and cancer treatments. Join a support group or talk with others who have gone through treatment.
- American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street
Atlanta , GA 30303
Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
Web Address: http://www.cancer.org
- National Cancer Institute
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
Web Address: http://www.cancer.gov
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing.
- Your throat feels swollen and you have trouble swallowing or breathing.
- You cough up blood.
- You have arm or leg weakness, trouble walking, or trouble seeing.
- You have blood in your urine or bowel movement.
- You vomit blood.
When should I seek immediate care?
- You feel confused or have a severe headache that does not go away.
- You have pain where your IV was or at your catheter site.
- Your arm or leg feels warm, painful, or looks bigger than usual.
- You urinate a lot less than usual or stop urinating.
- You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.
- Your heart is beating faster than usual.
When should I call my doctor or oncologist?
- You have a fever of 100.5°F (38°C) or higher or chills.
- You have bleeding from your gums.
- You have white spots or sores in your mouth.
- You have bruises on your body that are not caused by an injury or fall.
- You feel depressed.
- You have a cough that lasts more than a few days.
- You have diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting that lasts more than 2 days.
- You have frequent, painful urination.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers 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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