Different Ways to Receive IV Chemotherapy

Choosing Between IVs, PICCs, and Ports

Chemotherapy, the medication regimen used to kill cancer cells, is typically administered at an infusion center or hospital. Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered in several different ways, depending on the type of medication. Some are available to take orally (by mouth), and some are delivered through veins in the hand or arm, or through a port that's surgically placed in the chest.

The devices used for infusion are temporary and will be removed after you complete the infusion or when you complete your full chemotherapy regimen.

This article will discuss what to expect on infusion days and will outline the options of intravenous (IV) methods for infusions.

What to Expect on Infusion Day

On each infusion day, expect the following on arrival:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood pressure measured
  • Temperature taken
  • Respiration (breathing rate) measured

Your oncology team may also review the results of recent tests. They want to see that your white blood cell count (the infection fighters) numbers are within a healthy range.

To offset side effects such as an allergic reaction, you may be given Benadryl (diphenhydramine) before the infusion. This causes sleepiness, so ask for a warm blanket at your infusion chair. You may also receive medication to prevent nausea and vomiting.

Bring with you:

  • Water bottle so you can stay hydrated
  • Comfort foods to snack on
  • Books to read or music to listen to
  • A laptop or another mall electronic device

Short-Term IV Catheters

Young girl receiving chemotherapy. I.v in hand. Sick child with IGA Nephropathy taking Cyclophosphimide. Childrens Hospital of Illinois.

Selina Boertlein / Getty Images

If only a few chemotherapy infusions are needed, a short-term IV catheter is usually the best option. These intravenous lines consist of a needle and a short length of tubing that connects to an IV bag.

How It's Done

A nurse will insert the needle into a vein in your hand or arm, and tape it in place with the tube. When the procedure is over, the needle and catheter are removed.

This method is often used even when up to eight infusions are needed in a treatment series. It doesn;t have the risk of scarring that can occur as a result of port insertion.

Midterm IV Catheters

If you need a catheter in place for one to six weeks, a midterm catheter, such as a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, may be used. Unlike short-term IV catheters, most of the tubing will be situated inside an arm vein, with only a short length extending outside of the skin.

How It's Done

For this procedure, a doctor, nurse, or technician will insert the catheter line into your arm and secure it in place. Since PICC lines are usually placed in deeper veins, a numbing agent and local anesthetic may be used during the placement to reduce pain.

Whenever you need infusions, the nurse can access the catheter portal rather than sticking a needle into your skin with every visit. Another advantage is that PICC lines can also be used to draw blood.

PICC lines are more reliable and durable than peripheral IV lines. They allow for larger amounts of fluid to be delivered and have a lower risk of leaking.

PICC lines should not be used for fewer than five days of infusions.

Side effects include localized infection, clogging of the PICC line, and abnormal heartbeats if the end of the catheter is placed too close to the heart.

PICC lines are commonly used when people need to continue IV antibiotic therapy at home following discharge from the hospital.

Long-Term IV Catheters and Ports

If you will have many chemotherapy infusions, a long-term IV vascular access device (VAD) may be recommended.

How It's Done

Similar to midterm IV catheters, you'll have a length of tubing placed inside an arm or chest vein. However, this one will go almost all the way to your heart, ending at a large vein. Long-term VADs are either tunneled catheters with external injection caps or implanted vascular access devices (called ports).

Ports work well for people who have fragile veins, and they can be used to take blood samples and deliver other types of medications.

Examples of long-term IV devices include:

  • Implanted VADs placed just beneath the skin by a surgeon or interventional radiologist
  • Central venous catheters (CVC), which have tunneled lines with external injection caps

Ports are often placed at the time of surgery when a tumor is removed, and they can be used as soon as the day after being placed.

Although VADs are often placed in the subclavian artery of the chest, larger veins (like the jugular vein) are sometimes needed and can be easier to place.

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause damage to veins, so the medical team will recommend a port in the chest to reduce that risk.

The advantage of a port over IV lines is that you are protecting the veins, and the port can also be used to collect blood and deliver other medications.

Disadvantages include the risk of clogging the port and infection. Infections can sometimes be serious, especially because many people have a low white blood count after chemotherapy.

Summary

Chemotherapy can be delivered in several different ways, depending on your needs. Some are delivered through veins in the hand or arm or through a port in the chest.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are considering a peripheral IV, PICC line, or port for chemotherapy, be sure to discuss all of your options with your oncologist and surgeon. A medical expert will be able to give you advice based on your treatment needs, current health, and personal preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

    Side effects differ depending on the type of chemotherapy you are getting. They can include:

    • Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells)
    • Bruising
    • Fatigue
    • Hair loss
    • Infection
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
  • Does IV chemo hurt?

    You shouldn't experience pain during the IV insertion or during chemotherapy, but it can cause discomfort. When being administered, some drugs may feel cold traveling through your veins, others can feel warm, and some cause a mild burning sensation.

  • Is oral chemotherapy as effective as IV chemotherapy?

    Yes, oral chemotherapy is just as effective. The added bonus to taking oral medications is that many of them can be taken at home.

  • How long does a chemo infusion take?

    Expect to be in the infusion chair for at least 30 minutes. Some infusions take several hours.

  

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Cancer Society. Tubes, lines, ports, and catheters used in cancer treatment.

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