Receiving IV Chemotherapy

Front view of a man showing heart and veins with catheter inserted in forearm (PICC).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.

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 medicines, 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.

Central venous catheters

There are three types of central venous catheters: PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter), tunneled line (also called Central Line), and implantable 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 one medicine to be given at a time

  • Reduces the likelihood that medicine will leak 

The risks include:

  • Infection

  • Clots forming in or around the catheter

  • Problems clearing (flushing) the catheter

  • Leaks or breaks in the catheter

Discuss these risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.

When to call the healthcare provider

No matter which type of IV access you have, call your healthcare provider 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