Living Well

A Life-Saving Treatment: Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy

Last updated: Apr 03, 2017

When Lori Elliot, APN, DNP was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer, her physician wanted to give her the best chance at survival. Ms. Elliot’s cancer had spread outside her ovaries and was sprinkled like grains of rice throughout the thin layer of tissue that protected her abdominal organs, known as the peritoneal space.

Conventional chemotherapy, which is administered through a vein in the arm or taken as a pill, was not going to be enough. Together, Ms. Elliot and her physician decided on a less common—and more aggressive—treatment known as intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, which is administered directly into the abdominal cavity. Nearly a year and a half later, she believes it is why she is still alive today.

“Our goal is to try and cure every patient,” says Michael Wax, MD, an oncologist/hematologist at Summit Medical Group MD Anderson Cancer Center—one of the few places in New Jersey that offers this specialized treatment.  

“When the right patients, like Lori, have IP chemotherapy they are 20 percent less likely to see their cancer come back when compared with standard chemotherapy.”

Despite these results, IP chemotherapy remains underutilized. In fact, studies show that only half of patients with the type and stage of cancer that would benefit from the therapy actually receive it.  

“Unfortunately, IP chemotherapy is not available everywhere because most facilities are not comfortable administering it,” explains Dr. Wax. “You need highly specialized physicians and chemotherapy nurses.”

Thankfully, Ms. Elliot says, Summit Medical Group MD Anderson was in her backyard. As a result, she had access to the most advanced therapies and latest clinical trials for cancer.

“Dr. Wax gave me every chance to be successful. Every nurse and physician tailored my treatment to exactly what I needed. They were available to me 24 hours a day if I had any questions,” she said.  

“I was so weak. I could not imagine what my experience would have been like if I had to travel into the city for treatment. I felt so safe with the chemotherapy nurses at Summit Medical Group MD Anderson that I was almost sad when it was time to leave.”

What is traditional or systemic chemotherapy?

  • Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill off cancer cells.
  • In systemic chemo, drugs are injected into the vein or taken in pill form. This allows them to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.  

What is IP chemotherapy?

  • Developed in the 1980s, IP chemotherapy drugs are delivered into the abdominal cavity through a thin tube.
  • Before chemotherapy begins, the patient has a catheter surgically implanted into the abdomen. The catheter is connected to an access port implanted under the skin. The chemotherapy is delivered through the port.
  • This technique allows the abdominal cancer cells to “bathe” in the drug before they are absorbed by the bloodstream.

Who would benefit from IP chemotherapy?

  • The therapy is used primarily in ovarian and fallopian tube carcinomas. It is most effective for patients with stage III ovarian cancer when the disease has spread past the ovaries but is still confined to the abdomen.    
  • Patients are candidates if they have had a successful removal of the ovaries and other reproductive organs such as the uterus or fallopian tubes.

What are the side effects?

The side effects vary dependent on patient. Please consult with your physician in regards to the details.


  1. Interview with Michael Wax, MD, an oncologist/hematologist at SMG-MD Anderson Cancer Center. (3/1/17).
  2. Interview with Lori Elliot, APN, DNP, patient and psychiatric nurse practitioner at SMG. (2/28/17).
  3.  Zolot, Joan PA. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy shown to improve survival for patients with advanced ovarian cancer. American Journal of Nursing. November 2015 - Volume 115 - Issue 11 – p. 63
  4. American Cancer Society. Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer. 2015 February 4.