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Chemotherapy Infusion - How a Chemotherapy Infusion is Given for Breast Cancer


Updated September 25, 2008

Chemotherapy Nurse and IV Bags

Chemotherapy Nurse hanging IV Bags of chemotherapy drugs at M.D. Anderson in Texas.

National Cancer Institute, Bill Branson photo
Question: Chemotherapy Infusion - How a Chemotherapy Infusion is Given for Breast Cancer
What is a chemotherapy infusion, and how is it given for breast cancer?
Answer: Also called an intravenous (IV) infusion, a chemotherapy infusion is a method used to put fluids, including saline and drugs, into your bloodstream as a body-wide way to fight cancer. Your breast cancer diagnosis, staging, hormone status, and overall health will be considered when the amount and type of drugs and premedications (to prevent nausea and vomiting) are ordered for your treatment. Infusions may be given in different schedules -- high-dose (every 3 weeks) and low-dose (weekly).

Before Each Infusion
Because infusional chemotherapy is administered directly into the blood, every cell in your body is exposed to the drugs. Cancer cells as well as certain healthy cells may be affected. Your blood counts may change after each treatment depending on the drugs given, so you will have a test called a complete blood count (CBC) to check your white and red cells as well as other elements in your blood. If your CBC indicates problems, you may need booster shots to increase your white or red blood cells, or treatment may be withheld until they recover on their own. Ask for copies of your CBC reports and save those for your health records.

How an Infusion is Given
Infusion for breast cancer is usually done in a cancer clinic or hospital setting. Specially trained nurses will collect your prescribed drugs, check the dosages, and seat you in a comfortable chair. Your chemotherapy drugs will be delivered via an IV-drip (bag) or injection, depending on the type of medication being given.

If you have a port under your skin, the nurse will use a special needle connected to a catheter (long slender tube) to access your port. If you don’t have a port, then the nurse will access a vein directly with a needle, which will be secured with tape or bandages. All of the drugs will be administered through this needle and catheter.

Once your vein or port has been accessed, the drugs in the IV bag will be allowed to drip at a controlled rate into your bloodstream. Injections and premedications may be given via the IV bag. If Adriamycin or Taxol (2 common chemotherapy drugs) are given, the nurse may use a large plastic syringe connected to your catheter to push the drug manually, or an infusion pump may be used.

After Each Infusion
Because chemotherapy often produces side effects, your health care team will tell you about what to expect, and your doctor may prescribe follow-up medications to help. Taking those medications as prescribed and on time is vital –- if you take them off-schedule, they will be much less effective. You will be asked to return to the clinic for another CBC after each treatment, so that your blood levels can be monitored. If you need any help with rehydration, you can be given an additional infusion of saline fluid. And if you’re having difficulty with nausea, vomiting or other side effects, ask for help –- nurses often have tips on ways to deal with side effects related to your medications.

Tip About Side Effects
Keep a log of your reactions to the infusion –- vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, hives, skin redness near the injection site –- noting the date, time, intensity and estimated volume of each occurrence. If you don’t feel well enough to write this information in the log, ask a family member to help you. Also note weight loss or gain. Bring this log with you to your appointments. This information can help your nurses and doctor understand your needs. Drug doses can be adjusted and other medications can be prescribed to help alleviate side effects.

Chemotherapy.com (AMGEN). Treating Cancer with Chemotherapy. Copyright 2007.

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