How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy given into a vein (intravenous) goes directly into your blood and is carried to all areas of your body. It can be given through:

  • a cannula — a thin tube into a vein in the back of your hand or lower arm
  • a central line — a long, thin tube into a vein in your chest
  • a PICC (peripherally inserted central venous catheter) line — a long, thin tube into a vein near the bend in your elbow
  • a port (portacath) — a thin, soft plastic tube with a rubber disc that lies under the skin on your upper chest.

A cannula stays in for one treatment and is taken out before you go home. The other lines are put in during a procedure with anaesthetic. They can be left in until your whole course of chemothera-py is over. They may be used to give other drugs or to take blood tests.

Some chemotherapy drugs are taken as tablets or capsules.

Your doctor will explain your treatment and what to expect.

Chemotherapy into a vein

Chemotherapy given into a vein (intravenous) goes directly into your blood and is carried to all areas of your body.

It can be given through:

Chemotherapy drugs can be given into a cannula, line or port by injection, as a drip or through a pump. Your nurse will check that the cannula, line or port is working properly before giving you chemotherapy.

Cannula

A cannula is a thin tube which is put into a vein in the back of your hand or lower arm. Your nurse will place a see-through dressing over it to make sure it stays in place. Having a cannula put in can be a bit uncomfortable or painful, but it shouldn’t take long and any pain soon wears off. The cannula is removed before you go home.

Giving chemotherapy into a cannula
Giving chemotherapy into a cannula

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Central line

A central line is a long, thin, hollow tube that is inserted into a vein in your chest. They are sometimes called skin-tunnelled central venous catheters. But you may hear them called by brand names, such as Hickman® or Groshong® lines.

The line is put in under a general or local anaesthetic. It should be completely painless, but you might have a stiff shoulder for a couple of days. Once it is in place, the central line is either stitched or taped firmly to your chest to prevent it from being pulled out of the vein.

A central line
A central line

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PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central venous Catheter) line

A PICC line is a long, thin, hollow tube that your doctor puts into a vein near the bend in your elbow. You’ll be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area before the line is put in. The specialist nurse or doctor gently threads it along the vein until the tip sits in a large vein in your chest. The end of the line comes out just below the crook of your elbow. Once it’s in place, the PICC line is taped firmly to your arm to prevent it being pulled out of the vein.

A PICC line
A PICC line

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The end of the PICC line comes out just above the crook of your elbow
The end of the PICC line comes out just above the crook of your elbow

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Implantable port (portacath)

An implantable port is a thin, soft plastic tube with a rubber disc (port) at the end. It can be put in under a general or local anaesthetic. The tube is inserted into a vein until its tip sits just above your heart and the port lies under the skin on your upper chest. Once it’s in place, you can feel and see the port as a small bump underneath the skin of your chest, but nothing shows on the outside of your body.

To use the portacath, a special needle called a Huber needle is passed through your skin into the port. Your nurse can give medicines into the vein or take blood. The skin over the port can be numbed with an anaesthetic cream first so you don’t feel any discomfort.

An implantable port
An implantable port

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Your line or port after chemotherapy

If you have a line or port, it can be left in until your whole course of chemotherapy is over. This means you won’t need a cannula or needles put into the veins in your arm every time you have treatment. You can also have blood tests taken from your line or port. Antibiotics, fluids or a blood transfusion can be given through it too.

When your course of treatment is over, the line or port will be taken out. A doctor or nurse will do this for you, usually in the outpatient department.

We have more information about central lines, PICC lines, and implantable ports.

Having chemotherapy into a vein

How chemotherapy can be given into a vein and other people's experiences.

About our cancer information videos

Having chemotherapy into a vein

How chemotherapy can be given into a vein and other people's experiences.

About our cancer information videos

Oral chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can be given as tablets or capsules. We explain how to look after them and what to expect.

About our cancer information videos

Oral chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can be given as tablets or capsules. We explain how to look after them and what to expect.

About our cancer information videos


Chemotherapy tablets

Some chemotherapy drugs are taken as tablets or capsules. This is just as effective as other types of chemotherapy. The drug is absorbed into your blood and carried around your body just like intravenous chemotherapy.

Your cancer specialist will tell you when to take your chemotherapy tablets or capsules. They will also give you other instructions, such as whether or not to take them with food.

It’s very important to:

  • read the labels on the boxes before you leave the hospital. If instructions are unclear, ask your nurse, doctor or pharmacist
  • take your drugs exactly as prescribed. Not taking them at the right times can affect how well the treatment works
  • contact your nurse or doctor at the hospital immediately for advice if you can’t take your medicines for any reason or are sick after taking them.

Chemotherapy by mouth can cause side effects, just like chemotherapy into a vein. It is important to know what those side effects are. You also need to know how to store your drugs safely.

Back to Being treated with chemotherapy

Where can I have chemotherapy?

Usually chemotherapy is given in a chemotherapy day unit. Some may people stay in hospital, or have treatment at home.

Central lines

A central line is a long, thin hollow tube. It is inserted into a vein in your chest to give chemotherapy and other drugs.

Implantable ports

An implantable port is a tube with a rubber disc at the end. It is inserted into a vein to give chemotherapy or other medicines.

PICC lines

A PICC line is a long, thin, flexible tube known as a catheter. It’s put into the arm to give chemotherapy and other medicines.