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Receiving IV Chemotherapy

You may have a short-term IV that is removed after each treatment. Or you may have a central venous catheter. This is a thin tube that is inserted into a large vein with access to your central blood supply. It is left in place as long as needed.

Image of short-term IV

Short-term IV

A short-term IV may be placed in the hand or in the arm between the hand and elbow. You may feel a coolness when the IV is started. Treatment usually takes from 30 minutes to 8 hours. The time it takes depends on the number and type of medications, and whether fluids are also being given. The needle is removed when the course of therapy is complete. If inserting the short-term IV becomes difficult, a central venous catheter can be used.

Image of central venous catheters

Central venous catheters

There are 3 types of central venous catheters: PICC, tunneled line, and port access. They can be left in place for weeks or months. The benefits of having a central catheter are that it:

  • Allows blood to be drawn more easily

  • Limits repeated needle sticks

  • May allow more than 1 drug to be given at a time

The risks include:

  • Infection

  • Clots forming in the catheter

  • Problems clearing (flushing) the catheter

  • Leaks or breaks in the catheter

Discuss these risks and benefits with your doctor.

When to call the doctor

No matter which type of IV access you have, call your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of the following:

  • Itching, rash, hives, wheezing, trouble breathing, or chest pain after receiving chemotherapy

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, taken by mouth, or as advised

  • Redness, pain, or swelling at or near the catheter site

  • Drainage or bleeding from the skin around the catheter

  • The catheter comes out or breaks

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sarah, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/7/2014
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