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Chemo-Infusion: What is a Chemotherapy Nurse?

Ultimate Guide to Chemo-Infusion Nursing Jobs

Whether you are a new nurse trying to find the perfect nursing specialty for you or an experienced nurse ready for a change, this guide covers everything you need to know about chemotherapy nursing: how to become a chemo nurse, chemo infusion nurse salary, chemotherapy nurse responsibilities, and more.

Table of Contents

What Does Chemo Stand For?

Chemo—and the more technical abbreviation CTX—stands for chemotherapy, the treatment that uses drugs to halt the growth of cancer cells or kill these cells altogether. This treatment may be given intravenously, orally, or topically, and it may be given alone or with other treatments. 

What Does Chemo Mean in Medical Terms?

Besides the previous basic definition of chemotherapy, here are other aspects of chemo that anyone working in oncology must know.

First of all, chemotherapy is not always used for the same purpose: 

  • It may be used as the primary or only cancer treatment.
  • It may be used after other treatments, such as surgery, to kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • It may also be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or radiation.
  • Additionally, chemo may be used to relieve symptoms by killing some cancer cells. 

A little-known fact is that chemo is not only used to treat cancer. Some chemotherapy drugs are effective in treating conditions such as bone marrow diseases and immune system disorders.

Furthermore, although most people know that chemotherapy can have significant side effects, it may come as a surprise that there are different types of chemo drugs and that each has its potential complications. 

Here are common side effects of chemotherapy drugs:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Pain
  • Constipation
  • Easy bruising
  • Bleeding

Thankfully, many of these side effects can be treated or sometimes prevented. Furthermore, most of these side effects disappear when the treatment ends. That said, some side effects can be long-lasting or can take months or years to manifest.

Possible late side effects of chemotherapy include the following:

  • Damage to lung tissue
  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Kidney problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Risk of a second cancer

Finally, in addition to being given in different ways, chemo can also be administered in different parts of the body:

  • Chemotherapy infusions can be given through a vein in the patient’s arm—the image most people have of chemo treatments—but they can also be given through a device in the patient’s chest, directly in the abdomen, in the central nervous system, or in the bladder.
  • Chemotherapy can be given as a shot, whereby the drugs may reach the tumor directly.
  • It can be taken as a pill or capsule.
  • It can be applied as a cream to areas of skin affected by skin cancer.
  • Chemo may also be administered directly during surgery, either directly to the cancerous cells or to the area where the cancer was.

What Is a Chemo Infusion Room in a Hospital?

Chemo rooms, or infusion areas, may be found in different healthcare settings. Of course, patients may be staying in hospitals or other inpatient healthcare settings where they receive the infusions, but they also may receive chemo in outpatient units, doctor’s offices, or even in their own homes—think chemo pills.

Regardless of the location, these rooms have very similar characteristics.

  • They usually have large chairs, similar to oversized recliners.
  • There are usually regular chairs as well for family members or friends.
  • There is usually a TV.
  • Most offer ways to increase privacy, such as a curtain that can be pulled around the patient’s chair.
  • Some infusion areas may have special rooms for patients receiving day-long treatments or for those who are very ill.
  • Aside from the nurses caring for patients and managing their infusions, there may be nursing assistants, techs, doctors, and social workers.
  • Patients may be sleeping, talking, watching TV, using their personal devices, or even working.
  • Most treatment centers provide food, such as snacks, and many people take their own.

What Is the Role of a Chemotherapy Infusion Nurse?

Ok, so we know what chemotherapy is and what a chemo-infusion room looks like in a hospital or other healthcare facility, but what does a chemo nurse do? Aside from providing nursing care, the main role of a chemo nurse is to deliver oncology treatments.

Here are some typical duties and responsibilities of a chemo-infusion nurse:

  • Provide nursing care for assigned patients
  • Administer chemotherapy, blood components, fluid and electrolyte replacements, and other oncology treatments as prescribed by a physician
  • Perform nursing assessments and triage patient care needs for new and ongoing patients
  • Provide education to patients, families, and caretakers
  • Act as an information resource to students, other healthcare professionals, patients, and the public
  • Provide family support as required, including applicable referrals and bereavement counseling
  • Follow the established policies, procedures, and objectives, including quality improvement, safety, environmental, and infection control standards
  • May train and guide other nursing and support staff engaged in clinical activities
  • May participate in research and related activities

How to Become a Chemo Infusion Nurse and How Long It Takes

To become a chemo-infusion nurse, you must first be a registered nurse (RN), meaning you must have completed an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) and passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). In addition, you must hold an active RN license within the state you wish to practice (many states are part of The Nurse Licensure Compact).

Furthermore, depending on the hospital or other healthcare facility, there may also be a minimum work experience requirement, which typically ranges from six months to over two years. Relevant work experience may include inpatient nursing, ambulatory care, oncology, chemotherapy, and skills with venous access devices (VADs) and intravenous lines (IVs).

Finally, chemo-infusion nurses are usually required to have basic life support (BLS) or another cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training course completed with up-to-date credentials, and specialty certifications are often preferred in this area of nursing.

Learn about available certifications for chemo-infusion nurses.

How Much Does a Chemo-Infusion Nurse Make?

The average chemo-infusion nurse’s salary depends on a number of factors, including the state and city where they live, level of education, years of work experience, and certifications.

That said, since chemotherapy nurses are registered nurses, they earn, on average, $89,010 per year. 

One of the main factors affecting chemotherapy nurse salary is the type of facility where they work. According to Rieger and Yarbro (2003), most oncology nurses work in the following settings: 

  • Hospital/multihospital system: 43%
  • Outpatient/ambulatory care: 24%
  • Physicians’ offices: 11%
  • Hospice or home care: 3%

Based on the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), here are the average salaries of RNs in the different settings where oncology nurses work: 

  • Outpatient care centers: $97,200
  • Hospitals: $90,600–$91,290
  • Home health care services: $82,920
  • Offices of physicians: $79,810

Want to learn more about the factors that influence RN salary?

Read Our Ultimate Guide to Registered Nurse (RN) Pay [Updated 2023].

Final Thoughts on Chemo-Infusion Nursing

Nursing is among the most important and noblest of all professions, and every specialty is essential. Therefore, there is no such thing as the best nursing specialty; this depends on your particular strengths, interests, and preferences. Still aren’t sure if chemo-infusion nursing is for you? Read our ultimate guide to oncology nursing to learn what chemotherapy nursing is like, why work as a chemo nurse, and what makes a good in this specialty.

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