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IV therapy is used to give medicines, fluids, blood products, or nutrition into the bloodstream. This is done by placing a flexible plastic tube (called an IV line or catheter) through the skin into a vein. It may also be called infusion therapy.
There are many types of infusions that are given through an IV:
IV therapy may be given in many settings including the hospital, infusion clinic, doctor’s office, or even at home.
The type of IV catheter you have will depend on what you need it for, how often you need it, what your doctor recommends, and what your preferences are. Types of IVs that may be used are:
You may have had a peripheral IV in the past. They are usually placed in the hand or arm through the skin into a vein. A nurse or other health care provider will place the IV and put a clear plastic dressing on top. Peripheral IVs can only be used for a few days, so they are a better choice for short term treatments. Medicines that can damage veins should not be given through a peripheral IV.
Central venous catheters (CVCs) are also called central venous access devices (CVADs), central catheters, or central lines. Most CVCs have a soft, flexible tube that ends in or near a large vein that goes into the heart called the superior vena cava (SVC).
Not everyone getting cancer treatment will need a CVC, but there are times where they can be helpful. You might need a CVC if:
There are several types of CVCs. You and your doctor will discuss which is best for you. The kinds of CVCs commonly used during cancer treatment are:
Midlines are like CVCs, but they are shorter and don’t go all the way to the superior vena cava (SVC). Midlines may be used when a person has fragile veins or need medicines for days to weeks. Because infection is less likely with a midline, it is sometimes preferred over a CVC. But midlines cannot be used to give medicines that can damage veins or those that require a CVC (such as total parenteral nutrition, or TPN).
If your cancer care team has suggested a CVC, ask them about the risks and benefits.
Your cancer care team will teach you or a caregiver how to take care of your CVC. Here are some things you can do:
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Arnold MJ, Keung JJ, McCarragher B. Interventional Radiology: Indications and Best Practices. Am Fam Physician. 2019;99(9):547-556.
Camp-Sorrell D, Matey L. (eds). Access device standards of practice for oncology nursing. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2017.
Catheters and ports in cancer treatment. Cancer.Net. Accessed at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/chemotherapy/catheters-and-ports-cancer-treatment on December 14, 2022.
Gorski LA, Hadaway L, Hagle ME, et al. Infusion therapy standards of practice, 8th edition. Journal of Infusion Nursing. 2021;44(1S).
Patel AR, Patel AR, Singh S, Singh S, Khawaja I. Central Line Catheters and Associated Complications: A Review. Cureus. 2019;11(5):e4717.
Last Revised: January 12, 2023
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