IV and Injection Treatment
Traditional chemotherapy is often given as an infusion or injection. With infusions, chemotherapy drugs are put into your body through a soft, thin tube (called a catheter) that's placed in a vein—typically, one located on your forearm or hand. Sometimes, a small tube called a port
is implanted into the chest, which allows the infusion to be administered directly to the bloodstream without multiple needle sticks. An infusion can last from a few hours to several days, depending on the drug and dosage. In some cases, however, a chemo drug may be injected quickly with a syringe either into your IV or directly into your skin.
Depending on the type of chemotherapy you’re receiving and the duration of your infusion, you may get your chemotherapy at home, in your doctor’s office, at a clinic or outpatient infusion center, or at the hospital. Typically, you’ll receive a “chemo teaching” session before you begin your treatment, so be sure to ask for one if it hasn’t come up.
Chemotherapy centers try to make you as comfortable as possible by providing recliners, private rooms (or privacy partitions), and a soothing environment. During infusions, you may find it helpful to bring
a book, a journal, a good movie, or some other activity to help pass the time.
Some centers will even allow you to bring a companion if you’d like to have company (and if not, you can stay connected with video calls on your phone or computer). If you’ll be getting treatment for several hours, ask about options for eating while you are there. Some treatment centers provide snacks and meals (either for free or sold at a reasonable price), while others will encourage you to bring an insulated bag or cooler with snacks.
Before your IV chemotherapy starts, you will undergo routine pre-checks, including a short physical exam, a blood sample, and measurement of your height and weight to ensure you get the correct dose of chemotherapy. From there, an IV tube will be put in your arm, unless you have a port, in which case a needle with a flexible tube will be placed in the port." Prior to the infusion, you may be given medication to prevent nausea or possible allergic reactions. Then, the infusion begins.
Chemotherapy infusion times can range from 5 minutes to 8 hours (and sometimes even more), depending on the medications being administered. You can use this time to relax, eat, work, read, knit, watch television, or engage in just about any hobbies or activities that you can do from your treatment room. The IV stand will even roll with you in case you want to use the restroom, take a walk, or sit outside.
Throughout the chemotherapy, your nurse will come in and check your vitals and make sure you aren't reacting to the medications. When the chemotherapy drugs are fully administered, the nurse will remove your IV. Note that when this happens, as well as when a bag needs to be changed or if there’s any other problem with the function of the line, the machine will start beeping. If this happens, make sure your nurse is on their way so as not to disrupt treatment. Once your session is over, you may be asked to stay in the treatment room for up to 30 minutes after your IV is removed to ensure you do not have any adverse reactions to the medications used.
Some chemotherapy treatments are taken by mouth. In these treatments, a pill, liquid, or capsule is prescribed to be taken at home. You will be given instructions on how and when to take it, as well as special guidelines for storing and handling your chemotherapy drugs. It’s important that you follow these directions, which may include:
- Mixing (or not mixing) your drug with food, liquid, or other drugs
- Wearing gloves when touching the pills or capsules
- Storing your medication in a refrigerator or special container
- Keeping drugs out of reach of others, especially children and pets
- Disposing of excess drugs or packages at a pharmacy
Be sure to follow these guidelines carefully, as they are in place to ensure your oral chemotherapy is both effective and safe.
Because oral chemotherapy is typically administered at home, it’s important for you to maintain communication with your doctor or nurse, especially if you have problems taking your chemotherapy drugs due to side effects. By providing this information to your doctor, they can make changes to your treatment plan as needed.
Topical chemotherapies are applied directly to the skin in the form of a gel, cream, or ointment. These are often self-administered at home, so you will be given instructions on how and when to apply the medication, as well as any equipment required to apply the medication (such as special gloves). You will also be instructed on how to store, handle, and dispose of the container your topical chemotherapy comes in. Be sure to follow these guidelines carefully, as they are in place to ensure your topical chemotherapy is both effective and safe.
Because topical chemotherapy is typically administered at home, it’s important for you to maintain communication with your doctor or nurse, especially if you have side effects keeping you from applying the medication as directed, such as pain or sensitivity at the application site.