What is Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy?

Ovarian cancer may spread to the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity and the organs contained within it. This can cause symptoms like fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity (also known as ascites), bowel obstructions, decreased quality of life, and shortened survival.

Chemotherapy is used in the treatment of ovarian cancer. However, typical intravenous (IV) chemotherapy may not be completely effective if the cancer has spread into the peritoneal cavity. This is because intravenous chemotherapy does not concentrate well in the peritoneal cavity. Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy may be an option to help treat ovarian cancer that has spread to the peritoneal cavity.1

How does intraperitoneal chemotherapy work?

While peritoneum refers to the actual membrane that lines the abdominal cavity, the peritoneal space is the area between the muscles and organs in the abdomen. If ovarian cancer spreads to this area, IP chemotherapy can help target the cancer cells there.2

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Before starting IP chemotherapy, a port will be placed under your skin near the ribs. This will provide access for the chemotherapy. A thin, flexible tube called a catheter will be attached to the chamber of the port. This goes into the peritoneal space.2

For the IP chemotherapy, the drug, along with fluids like saline, will be injected into the access port so they will eventually go into the peritoneal space. This allows the medicine to directly target the cancer cells in the area using a high dose of chemotherapy.2

Your doctor will let you know specifics about your IP chemotherapy. Some people get it as an outpatient procedure, while others have it inpatient (in the hospital). The number of treatments can vary. Some people switch between intravenous chemotherapy and IP chemotherapy depending on their doctor’s recommendations.2

What are the possible side effects?

There are 2 types of complications people having IP chemotherapy may experience: problems related to the port, or problems resulting from the drugs. Side effects from the drugs can vary, depending on what drugs are given.3

Side effects of IP chemotherapy may include:3,4

  • Frequent urination, or a feeling of fullness in the bladder, due to pressure in the abdomen and fluid buildup
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Lowered appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cramping, abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Kidney problems
  • Neurotoxicity (nervous system issues)
  • Allergic reactions, including rash, trouble breathing, low blood pressure

Side effects related to a catheter or port may include:3

  • Infection
  • Blocked catheter
  • Trouble accessing the port or infusing the drug
  • Leakage

These are not all the possible side effects of IP chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with IP chemotherapy.

Things to consider

If you do decide to have IP chemotherapy, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions leading up to and following the procedure.

People having IP chemotherapy should be regularly checked for:3

  • Abdominal pain
  • Catheter-related problems
  • Signs of infection
  • Nervous system issues
  • Kidney issues
  • Myelosuppression (bone marrow suppression, which can decrease immune system function)

Before beginning treatment with IP chemotherapy, talk to your doctor about any other health issues you have. Also tell your doctor about any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021