Different Ways to Take IV Chemotherapy

Needles, Catheters and Portacaths

Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be given as shots, pills, and infusions. For chemo infusions, drugs will be given through your bloodstream. Fluid chemotherapy drugs are prepared in bags that are hung on an IV pole and connected to catheters – a system of tubes that allows the chemotherapy to drip into your bloodstream at a controlled rate. To take IV chemotherapy, you will need some device that gives access to a vein. This may be a simple short-term IV, a catheter, or a port. Here are some options for venous access.​

Short-term IV Catheters:

Simple IV Line in Hand
Simple IV Line in Hand. Art © Pam Stephan

When you're having surgery, one infusion, or will be connected to IV treatment for less than a week, a short-term IV catheter is the fastest way to go.  These consist of a needle and a short length of tube that ends in an injection portal.  The size of your needle and tube depends on what type of procedure you will need.  A nurse will insert the needle in a vein in your hand or arm, and tape it and the tube into place. When your procedure is over, the catheter is removed.

Examples of short-term IV catheters are:

Mid-term IV Catheters:

PICC Line - Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter
PICC Line - Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter. Art © Pam Stephan

If you need a catheter in place for one to six weeks, a mid-term catheter may work for you.  Like short-term IV catheters, you'll have a length of tubing, but most of it will be inside an arm vein, with a short line of tubing outside your skin that ends with a cap.  Unlike a long-term IV catheter, these lines do not reach all the way to your heart.   A nurse will insert the catheter line into your arm and secure it in place.  When you need injections and infusions, your nurse can access the catheter portal instead of sticking a needle into your skin.

Examples of short-term IV catheters are:

Long-term IV Catheters and Ports:

Portacaths For Chemotherapy
Portacaths For Chemotherapy. Art © Pam Stephan

For four or more treatments of chemo, a long-term IV vascular access device (VAD) could be your best option. Similar to mid-term IV catheters, you'll have a line of tubing inside an arm or chest vein, but this one will go all the way to your heart. Long-term VADs are either tunneled catheters with external injection caps or implanted vascular access devices – also called ports. Your nurse will be able to use either device to administer treatments.

Examples of long-term IV devices are:

  • Central Venous Catheter (CVC) - Broviac, Groshong, or Hickman Catheters - tunneled lines with external injection caps
  • Implanted Port (IVAD) – Portacath, PassPort, InfusaPort, Medi-Port – durable infusion port located beneath your skin

Making Decisions About Catheters and Ports

Whether you choose a port or an IV for chemotherapy, be sure you discuss all your options with your oncologist and surgeon.  They will be able to give you professional advice based on your treatment needs and personal preferences.  Remember that these devices won't be with you forever – once treatment has ended, you can have them removed.


Chemotherapy Principles: An In-depth Discussion. What are the different ways to take chemotherapy?  American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 09/28/2010.

Questions and Answers About Chemotherapy.  Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer.  National Cancer Institute.  Last Updated Posted: 06/29/2007.

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