What Is Infusion Chemotherapy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Infusion chemotherapy is intravenous medication delivered slowly to treat cancer. The medication is provided in the form of a liquid suspension which acts as a vehicle to deliver it to the bloodstream. The process may take several minutes or hours, depending on the medication. Including testing before an infusion session and monitoring afterwards for bad reactions, the process may take several hours or a whole day.

Chemotherapy drugs are sometimes delivered through an IV catheter.
Chemotherapy drugs are sometimes delivered through an IV catheter.

A number of chemotherapy medications need to be delivered directly into the bloodstream, for a variety of reasons. Some would break down in the stomach if delivered orally, or could cause irritation to the mouth and throat. Direct delivery into the bloodstream also allows for more fast-acting medications, as the body doesn’t need to metabolize the medication to get it into the bloodstream. Some infusions may include a blend of medications, depending on the treatment plan.

Nausea and hair loss are the two common side effects of chemotherapy.
Nausea and hair loss are the two common side effects of chemotherapy.

The first step in an infusion chemotherapy appointment is a patient intake. Several vials of blood can be drawn to check the patient’s blood counts while the patient is interviewed by a care provider. Patients with active infections or other issues may not be able to safely receive infusion chemotherapy, and could need to wait for a treatment. Once clearance is provided, a care provider can start delivering the drug through an intravenous line. After the medication circulates, the patient is monitored for signs of allergy.

Infusion chemotherapy delivers drugs to the bloodstream.
Infusion chemotherapy delivers drugs to the bloodstream.

Some chemotherapy patients have a port or catheter placed for easy venous access. This can be helpful for patients who need to receive frequent infusions, as needle sticks to draw blood and place an intravenous line can be uncomfortable. With a port or catheter, care providers just need to expose the device to take blood and deliver medications. Patients may also be given anti nausea drugs before infusion chemotherapy to mitigate some of the side effects and keep them more comfortable.

Concerns with infusion chemotherapy can include the risk of an allergic reaction to the medication, which might cause acute distress, and general discomfort. Some medications cause a burning or tingling sensation and others may actually raise blisters if they come into direct contact with the skin. Care providers are cautious about placement to make sure the medication is delivered into the bloodstream and does not seep into the surrounding tissue. The medication will attack the tumor and may cause the patient to feel unwell at first. Several rounds may be needed to provide complete treatment.

An oncologist may administer an anti-nausea drug before the patient begins a chemotherapy session.
An oncologist may administer an anti-nausea drug before the patient begins a chemotherapy session.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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