By Sue Carrington |

Each year, an estimated 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer – the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. If you’re starting cancer treatment,  IV therapy will likely be a part of the process. IVs are used to deliver chemotherapy, or cancer-killing chemicals, along with other kinds of lifesaving medicines, nutrients, and fluids.

Attacking with chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, also called “chemo,” is medicine used to shrink a tumor or kill cancer cells. The medication can be injected into your bloodstream through an IV, or taken orally. Chemo can stop cancer from spreading, relieve the symptoms caused by cancer, and even stop cancer altogether.

Putting in a port, PICC, or central line

Typically, cancer patients need a lot of daily medications and a patient’s veins can collapse after repetitive infusions in the same place. One alternative is for your doctor to insert an implantable port, surgically placed under the skin on your chest or upper arm. That way, needles can be inserted directly into the port instead of inserting them into the vein multiple times.

Or, you may receive a PICC line (pronounced “pick,” which stands for “Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter”). This medical device is placed in a large vein in your arm to provide access to the bloodstream and deliver fluids, nutrients, and medications. It can stay in place for months*, as long as an infection does not form at the site of the line.

Another alternative is a central line, where a catheter is put into a large vein near your collarbone. As with a port or PICC, receiving medications through the central line prevents repetitive needle pokes. It’s vital to keep ports, PICCs, and central lines clean to avoid a central line associated bloodstream infection, which can be life-threatening.



Complications of IV therapy

Sometimes when chemotherapy medication is being administered, the drug accidentally leaks outside the vein into the surrounding tissue. This is called an “extravasation,” meaning a discharge or escape. Extravasation is particularly serious during chemotherapy since chemo drugs are highly toxic.

Your healthcare team should check your IV site frequently for signs of extravasation; early detection is the key to minimizing potential damage. Let your team know immediately if you experience any pain or burning at the infusion site.

Moving forward beyond treatment

As your cancer treatment comes to an end, talk about any concerns with your healthcare team, who can tell you what to look out for and how to cope. The story of your journey with cancer may also be helpful to other patients who are about to start their treatment.

*This protocol may differ from hospital to hospital.

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