Intravenous chemotherapy means having treatment into a vein. You have it either as an injection or a drip.
How long each treatment takes
You can have intravenous chemotherapy over different amounts of time. It depends on the drug and the type of cancer it’s treating.
For instance, you might have the drugs for each course of chemo:
- as an injection into a vein – over a few minutes
- through a drip or pump (intravenous infusion) – over anything from 30 minutes to a few days
- through a small pump that you wear – over a week or more
Chemotherapy that you have over weeks or months is called a continuous infusion. You might also hear it called protracted venous infusion (PVI) or ambulant infusion.
Ambulant means walking. So ambulant infusion means you can walk around wearing the chemotherapy pump.
For treatment that only lasts a few hours, you might have the drugs as a day patient at the hospital. In some areas of the country, specially trained nurses can give you some types of chemotherapy in your home.
For treatment that takes longer than a few hours, you might need to be admitted to a ward at the hospital. Using a small pump that you wear means you’ll usually be able to have treatment as an outpatient.
Ways of having IV drugs
There are several different ways of getting the drugs into your bloodstream. You can have them through:
- a small tube put into a vein in your hand or arm (a cannula)
- a central line put into a vein in your chest through your neck or chest
- a PICC line put into a vein in your chest through your arm
- a portacath, which is also called a port or totally implantable venous access device (TIVAD)
When you have your chemotherapy, your nurse will wear protective equipment such as gloves and a plastic apron. These are to protect your nurse from accidental splashes of chemotherapy.
The nurses will be very careful to avoid any direct contact with the drugs. This is because many chemotherapy drugs are harmful to the skin.
The equipment your nurse uses to give your chemo has to be disposed of carefully. It might include things like syringes, needles and plastic tubing. There are special containers in the hospital that they can use for getting rid of chemo equipment.
This may seem like a lot of fuss and even a bit scary. But it's important to be as safe as possible. Your hospital will have guidelines on what to do if staff do spill any of the drugs or get some on their skin or yours.
Everyday life with a central line
You can go home with a central line in place. There are very few restrictions to your everyday life.
It’s fine to have a bath or shower. You can get waterproof covers for your arm if you have a PICC line. Don't let your PICC line go under water in the bath, unless you have a waterproof cover.
These covers are good enough to use for swimming. But it’s important to check with your doctor first if you’re having chemotherapy. There may be an infection risk from using a public pool.
Before you go home, make sure you’re confident about looking after your line. Ask the staff on the ward if you’re not sure about anything. They can arrange for district nurses to visit you at home to help with the line until you feel confident.
Contact the medical staff on the ward or chemotherapy day unit for advice if you have any problems at home.