What Is an Intraperitoneal Catheter?

Synthia L. Rose

An intraperitoneal (IP) catheter is a catheter that is surgically inserted inside the stomach cavity for the dispensing of medication, usually chemotherapy drugs. Unlike the widely used intravenous (IV) catheters that remain outside of the body, an intraperitoneal catheter is completely enclosed inside the body, allowing medicine to enter the bloodstream through the stomach wall. With this catheter placement, medicine can enter the body faster and at higher concentrations than when delivered through the veins. Also, medicine delivered intraperitoneally usually remains active in the body longer and, thus, has a greater therapeutic impact.

An intraperitoneal catheter may be necessary for patients who require dialysis.
An intraperitoneal catheter may be necessary for patients who require dialysis.

Made of tubes consisting mainly of silicone, rubber or polyurethane, the intraperitoneal catheter must be attached to the stomach’s internal membrane to transfer room-temperature liquid medicines and saline solutions into the coelum. Cuffs and discs anchor the intraperitoneal catheter to ensure it does not move around inside the abdomen cavity, since migration can cause tears or leaks, which can lead to infection. Occasionally, doctors might use a special two-tube catheter that includes extraperitoneal tubing as well as intraperitoneal tubing.

An intraperitoneal catheter is surgically inserted inside the stomach and is completely enclosed inside the body.
An intraperitoneal catheter is surgically inserted inside the stomach and is completely enclosed inside the body.

While no severe pain is associated with delivery of medicine via an intraperitoneal catheter, patients may feel abdominal discomfort if too much solution flows into the stomach. Typically, 33 oz (1 L) to 63 oz (2L) of saline solution mixed with medicine is sent into the body. As the medicine is absorbed into the stomach’s membrane over 24 hours, patients regularly rotate position to allow the drugs to contact as much surface area of the stomach’s inner lining as possible. In the days after the intraperitoneal chemotherapy, patients might feel nausea, stomach cramps or lethargy. Risks associated with the use of an intraperitoneal catheter include peritonitis, which is inflammation of the stomach lining, and its cavity.

An IP catheter is most often used for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
An IP catheter is most often used for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Scientific studies confirm that chemotherapy medication such as paclitaxel and cisplastin has been found to be much more effective when delivered through an intraperitoneal catheter. Cancer therapy using an intraperitoneal catheter is most effective for malignancies of organs in the center of the body, such as cancer of the ovaries or of organs in the gastrointestinal tract. Medical studies suggest that cancer patients treated with chemotherapy via an IP catheter may have a longer remission and life span. On average, these patients live a year and a half longer than patients who get chemotherapy intravenously, studies suggest.

Chemotherapy treatment may cause hair loss in some patients.
Chemotherapy treatment may cause hair loss in some patients.

Rarely used alone as a treatment for cancer, chemotherapy with an intraperitoneal catheter is usually a follow-up to surgical tumor excision. Catheter delivery of medication may take place repeatedly over several days, depending on the severity of the malignancy. Some patients might need two consecutive days of treatment, while others receive several days over a two- or three-week period. Besides chemotherapy, an intraperitoneal catheter might be used for dialysis.

If too much solution flows into the stomach threw an intraperitoneal catheter, a patient may experience abdominal pain.
If too much solution flows into the stomach threw an intraperitoneal catheter, a patient may experience abdominal pain.
It's common for patients to feel lethargic in the days following intra-peritoneal chemotherapy.
It's common for patients to feel lethargic in the days following intra-peritoneal chemotherapy.
Studies suggest that patients that receive chemotherapy through an IP catheter live longer than IV chemotherapy.
Studies suggest that patients that receive chemotherapy through an IP catheter live longer than IV chemotherapy.
An intraperitoneal catheter features a port that is placed just under the skin for easy access.
An intraperitoneal catheter features a port that is placed just under the skin for easy access.
Hair loss may occur as early as the second week after the first cycle of chemotherapy.
Hair loss may occur as early as the second week after the first cycle of chemotherapy.

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