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Understanding IV Chemotherapy

IV chemotherapy is done with a flexible tube (catheter) put into a vein. You may have a short-term IV. This is removed after each treatment. Or you may have a central venous catheter. This is put into a large vein that has access to your central blood supply. It is left in place as long as needed.

Short-term IV

A short-term IV may be put in your hand. Or it may be put in your arm between your hand and elbow. You may feel a coolness when the IV is started. Treatment takes from 30 minutes to  8 hours. The time it takes depends on the number and type of medicines, and if fluids are also being given in the IV. The needle is removed when the course of therapy is done. If inserting the short-term IV becomes a problem, a central venous catheter can be used.

Central venous catheters and ports

Front view of man showing heart and veins with catheter inserted in forearm (PICC).
A PICC is one kind of central venous catheter.

There are 3 types of central venous catheters. They are:

  • PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line

  • Tunneled line, also called a central line

  • Implantable port access

One of these can be left in place for weeks or months. The benefits of having a central catheter are that it:

  • Lets blood be drawn more easily

  • Limits repeated needle sticks

  • May let more than 1 medicine be given at a time

  • Reduces the risk that medicine will leak 

The risks include:

  • Infection

  • Blood clots forming in or around the catheter

  • Problems clearing (flushing) the catheter

  • Leaks or breaks in the catheter

Talk about the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.

When to call the healthcare provider

No matter which type of IV access you have, call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Itching, rash, hives, wheezing, trouble breathing, or chest pain after treatment

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, taken by mouth, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Redness, pain, or swelling at or near the catheter site

  • Fluid leaking or bleeding from the skin around the catheter

  • A catheter that comes out or breaks

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