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Chemotherapy treatment

Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is most commonly given as a liquid drip into your vein (intravenously). Depending on the treatment, this may take about 20 minutes or several hours. Sometimes you may receive chemotherapy over a few days.

Before chemotherapy, you may be given medication so you don’t feel sick (anti-nausea or anti-emetic medication). You may also be encouraged to drink several glasses of water during the treatment. You will probably be in a room or a lounge area with other patients when you are getting the chemotherapy. You are usually able to walk to the toilet during your treatment.

The nurses will assess you before chemotherapy, and monitor you during and after the treatment. They will let you know when you are able to go home.

Your nurses will also talk to you about managing side effects and tell you about any medication you need to take at home.

Many people feel well enough to travel to and from the hospital or clinic by themselves during chemotherapy. However it is recommended that a relative or friend comes with you to your first appointment to support you and help you travel home if necessary.

Inserting the tube

To prepare you for IV chemotherapy, you will need to have a tube inserted. There are different types – your doctor will choose the most appropriate one depending on how often you need chemotherapy and how long each treatment will last.

A small plastic tube that is temporarily inserted into a vein using a needle. When the needle is removed, the cannula remains in place in your arm or the back of your hand. The cannula can be kept in place for a few days if necessary. If you have day treatment every few weeks, the cannula is usually put in and taken out each time you visit.

A type of thin plastic tube that remains in your vein throughout the entire course of treatment, often for several weeks to months. Blood for testing can sometimes be taken through this tube.

Common types of CVADs include:

  • peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC)—inserted into the arm
  • port-a-cath (port)—small device inserted under the skin of the chest or arm
  • central line—inserted into the chest or neck

All tubes or lines need to be kept clean to prevent infection or blockage. If you have a CVAD, a nurse may visit you at home to clean, dress and flush your line, or you may go to a clinic to have this done. This usually happens on a weekly or monthly basis.

A line doesn’t cause pain or discomfort if it is properly placed and cared for, although you will be aware that it is there. Tell your doctor or nurse immediately if you have pain, discomfort, redness or swelling around the line. This may indicate that you have a problem with the line.

Intravenous chemotherapy at home

Some people are able to have their chemotherapy at home using a portable pump. The pump is programmed to give the prescribed amount of chemotherapy over a specified period.

A chemotherapy pump can be carried in a bag or belt holster. It is usually attached to a CVAD usually PICC or port. The nurses at the clinic or hospital will show you how to care for the pump.