How Is Chemotherapy Given?

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Chemotherapy medicines come in many forms and can be given in many ways:

Intravenously (IV) as a slow drip (also called an infusion) through a thin needle in a vein in your hand or lower arm. The nurse will put the needle in when each infusion begins and take it out when the infusion is done. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you feel any pain or burning while you're getting chemotherapy through an IV infusion.

Injection as a single shot into a muscle in your arm, leg, or hip, or under skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or tummy.

By mouth (orally) as a pill or capsule.

Through a port (sometimes called by brand names such as Port-a-cath or Mediport) inserted in your chest during a short outpatient surgery. A port is a small disc made of plastic or metal about the size of a quarter that sits just under the skin. A soft thin tube called a catheter connects the port to a large vein. Your chemotherapy medicines are given through a special needle that fits right into the port. You also can have blood drawn through the port. When all your cycles of chemotherapy are done, the port is removed during another short outpatient procedure.

Through a catheter (sometimes called a "long line") in your chest or arm. A catheter is a soft thin tube that is inserted into a large vein during a short, outpatient surgery. The other end of the catheter stays outside your body. This is basically the same as having a port, only you don't have the port itself. Your chemotherapy medicines are given through a special needle that fits into the catheter. You also can have blood drawn through the catheter. When all your cycles of chemotherapy are done, the catheter is removed during another short outpatient procedure.

If you have a port or catheter, make sure you watch for any signs of infection around it. Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system, so you may be more susceptible to infections. If the skin around your port or catheter becomes red or swollen or you have a fever, contact your doctor right away.

Your doctor may recommend that you have a port or catheter put in to make getting chemotherapy easier and more comfortable for you. With a port or catheter, you don't feel the "stick" of the needle each time like you do with an IV or an injection. With a port, you'll feel a needle stick through the skin, but you won't experience the sometimes painful attempts to find a vein that are possible when getting an IV. Also, a port may be good for anyone experiencing arm lymphedema -- swelling of the arm on the same side as surgery to remove breast cancer. Avoiding needle sticks in that arm can help reduce the risk of further swelling.

In some cases, you may have a portable pump attached to the port or catheter. A pump controls how much and how fast the chemotherapy medicine goes into the port or catheter. The pump can be internal (implanted under the skin during a short surgery, usually at the same time as the port) or external (you carry it with you). Once all cycles of chemotherapy are done, the pump is removed.

Port for chemotherapyPort for chemotherapy:
A Port
B Catheter (tubing)
C Subclavian vein
D Superior vena cava
E Pulmonary vein
F Aorta
G Heart

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