Medical professionals typically administer three basic types intravenous chemotherapy treatments: short-term, long-term and continuous infusions. Patients undergoing short-term treatments usually receive drugs through a hollow, flexible tube inserted into a blood vessel of the hand or arm for 30 minutes to eight hours. In longer-term sessions, chemotherapy agents are generally administered through a catheter that has been surgically inserted in a large vein that connects with the body's central blood supply. Such extended treatments usually last from eight hours to one or two days. Continuous infusions are typically delivered by a portable pump that patients wear at home to continue infusion of drugs for several days or weeks.
Intravenous infusion is the most common way to administer chemotherapy to people suffering from various types cancer. The type of intravenous chemotherapy used generally depends on the illness being treated, its severity, and the kind of chemotherapy drugs being required. Treatment may also vary depending on the number of chemotherapy drugs prescribed. Some cancer treatments involve the use of several chemical agents.
Short-term chemotherapy is most often administered to outpatients in doctors' offices, infusion centers, clinics and hospitals. Simple treatments may even be administered in a patient's home by a nurse or other medical professional. Long-term infusions sometimes require overnight stays in a medical facility and may extend for a day or two. The tube and needle used for short- and long-term infusions are generally removed at the end of treatment and disposed of.
A person who is to receive very long-term continuous infusions usually first has to undergo an outpatient surgical procedure in which a catheter is implanted in his or her chest. In some instances, an external port is created for the catheter so that it can be accessed easily and often. When portable pumps are attached to the ports, patients can wear them home and go about normal activities while continuously receiving intravenous chemotherapy.
In addition to being given intravenously, chemotherapy can also be delivered orally in a pill or with a simple injection. For advanced cancers and other serious long-term illnesses, cancer specialists typically prefer intravenous chemotherapy. Perhaps the biggest advantage of intravenous infusion is that chemotherapy drugs are absorbed into the blood stream more easily and quickly than in other administration methods. Another major advantage is that intravenous chemotherapy typically provides greater flexibility in administering the dosage of drugs. Prescribed doses can be delivered in a matter of minutes or continuously over extended periods of time.