Understanding the Role of Infusion Therapy in Treatment for Cancer and Other Diseases

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By Peggy Kenny, MSN

If you have been diagnosed with cancer or another medical condition that requires infusion
therapy as part of your treatment plan, you likely have some questions.

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What exactly is infusion therapy? What can I expect during treatment? What about side effects?

At the JoAnn Heffernan Heisen Infusion Therapy Suite at Penn Medicine Princeton Cancer Center, specially trained nurses help patients understand their plan of care and guide them through their treatment journey.

What is infusion therapy?

Infusion therapy is the delivery of medications or fluids via a needle or catheter, which is inserted directly into a vein. Intravenous (IV) infusion is an efficient and effective way to treat diseases because the medication is absorbed directly into the bloodstream unlike oral medications, which pass through the digestive system first.

Additionally, infusion therapy allows healthcare professionals to precisely control the dosage and rate of administration, ensuring accurate treatment tailored to your individual needs.

Infusion therapy is used to deliver a variety of treatments including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, antibiotics, blood transfusions, hydration and electrolyte replacement.

What conditions are commonly treated with infusion therapy?

Infusion therapy is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including:

  • Cancer.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Anemia.
  • Infections resistant to oral antibiotics.
  • Vitamin deficiencies/Electrolyte imbalances.

What can you expect during treatment?

Infusion therapy typically involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a vein, usually in the arm. IV tubing is connected to the medication bag, passed through an IV pump, which allows control of rate and volume, and then attached to the patient at the IV site.

Some medications are administered through an IV push. With this method, a syringe containing the correct drug and dose are connected to the side port of the IV line and gently pushed into the IV fluid over a specific amount of time.

There are also medications that are delivered by direct injection into the skin. For patients who require multiple treatments over time, have poor venous access, or are receiving vesicant drugs, which can cause tissue damage if they leak outside the vein, a central line (implanted port or PICC, peripherally inserted central catheter, line) may be suggested to prevent further compromise and keep the treatment schedule on track.

The amount of time required for infusion therapy and the frequency of treatment depends on your diagnosis and treatment plan.

At JoAnn Heffernan Heisen Infusion Therapy Suite at Penn Medicine Princeton Cancer Center, the focus is on quality care and comfort.

Nurses hold national certification in oncology nursing or are required to attain certification within two years of hire. Certification in the administration of chemotherapy and immunotherapy is also required.

The suite offers 19 individual infusion treatment stations, each equipped with a recliner with heat and massage, and a television. All chairs have view of a healing garden, as well as a curtain that can be closed if privacy is preferred. Carefully curated artwork is on display throughout the suite, and pet therapy, Reiki and other relaxation activities are offered to increase comfort.

Coffee, tea, juice and light snacks are also available.

The Cancer Center also offers navigation services, oncology nutrition support, financial assistance, social work services and a clinical trial and research program. The Center also has its own pharmacist so medications can be prepared on site.

Are there side effects of infusion therapy?

The side effects of infusion therapy largely depend upon the treatment regimen for your
specific condition. Many regimens require pre-medication, such as anti-nausea drugs, that are part of the treatment plan and administered to help reduce side effects.

Different treatment regimens have different side effects, so it is important for patients to know the names of the drugs they are receiving, as well as the type of treatment (chemotherapy or immunotherapy) to better recognize and manage side effects.

It is important to contact your provider immediately if you experience side effects of treatment so they can address them and adjust your treatment plan if necessary.

How has infusion therapy changed over the years?

The treatment of cancer and other diseases has changed dramatically with the emergence of immunotherapy and targeted treatments that use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer by specifically focusing on cancer cells, sparing healthy cells, lessening side effects and improving tolerance of treatment.

Advancements in genetics and genomics have also played a significant role in individualizing treatment for patients and determining in advance what treatment would be most effective.

Many of these new drugs are delivered intravenously.

As part of Penn Medicine, Princeton Cancer Center provides patients full access to the specialized clinical services, rehabilitative care, and support they need during treatment and recovery from cancer. The experts at Princeton Cancer Center work closely with teams at the Abramson Cancer Center, a world leader in cancer research, patient care and education, to provide patients access to advanced diagnosis and treatment.

For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton Cancer Center or infusion therapy, visit princetonhcs.org/cancer. To find an oncologist affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 1 (888) 742-7496 or visit princetonhcs.org/directory.

Peggy Kenny, MSN, is a clinical nurse manager at Penn Medicine Princeton Cancer Center.

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