Cancer treatment often involves numerous blood draws. Additionally, if you undergo chemotherapy treatment, you may need to have it administered through a vein.
Over time, it can be painful to be repeatedly poked with needles or intravenous (IV) lines. A chemotherapy port may be an option in this situation to make it easier to draw blood and get chemo drugs and IV fluids into your bloodstream.
This article will go into more detail about what a chemotherapy port is, how it’s implanted, as well as the benefits and risks.
A chemotherapy port is a small disc or reservoir that can be made of plastic or metal, with a rubber seal at the top. A thin, soft, flexible tube, called a line or catheter, goes from this disc, which faces the outside of your body, directly into a large vein.
A chemo port is usually inserted just below your collarbone, or less often, the upper arm. It is about the size of a quarter and creates a small bump under your skin, which can be covered by clothing.
Chemotherapy drugs and other fluids or medications can be given directly through the port. This is done with a special needle that goes into an access point within the port. The fluids or medications flow through the catheter and directly into a large vein. Blood can also be drawn this way.
This is typically a lot easier and less painful than having needles constantly inserted into your veins.
Ports are surgically implanted. It’s a short, outpatient procedure, which means that you can go home after the surgery. You can typically expect the following to happen with this procedure:
- Before you have the port implanted, you’ll be given an IV with medication to help you relax. This may make you feel drowsy.
- You’ll lie on a procedure table and will stay awake while the port is implanted.
- Because the port is usually implanted near the collarbone, you’ll have a local anesthetic injected into your chest area. This will numb the area.
- Two small cuts will be made: one at the base of your neck and another just under your collarbone.
- A port will be inserted into the incision under your collarbone.
- A catheter will be extended under your skin, from the port to the neck incision, where it will be placed into a vein.
- The incisions will then be closed up and covered with a dressing to prevent infection.
- The procedure usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
You’ll be given instructions on how to take care of the incisions. It’s important to follow these directions carefully to avoid an infection or other issues.
You can usually remove the dressing after 2 to 3 days and let it air, but you’ll want to keep the incisions covered when you bathe or shower. Once the incisions have completely dried, it’s usually safe to let them get wet.
It’s important to leave any Steri-Strips, or butterfly bandages, in place. These can be removed after about 10 to 14 days.
For 3 to 5 days after the procedure, you’ll want to avoid lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.
Before deciding to have a port implanted, you and your doctor will talk about the procedure, the possible benefits and risks, and decide whether it is right for you.
The benefits of a chemo port can include:
- a reduction in the number of needle sticks
- less discomfort with chemotherapy treatment
- the ability to administer treatments that last more than a day, since the needle can be placed into the port and left there
- the ability to administer more than one medication at a time, if there is a double port
- the ability to do blood tests and administer chemotherapy on the same day with one stick
- less risk of medications touching the skin and causing irritation
As with most medical procedures or devices, a chemotherapy port does have some risks. These include:
- the possibility of infection at the incision sites
- blockages in the catheter
- blood clots
- twisting of the catheter under the skin
- the catheter or port moving
Taking good care of your port can help reduce the risk of infection and other complications. You can do this by:
- carefully following the directions regarding cleaning
- changing any dressings after the port is implanted
- always washing your hands before touching the port
- making sure the port doesn’t go underwater
- not engaging in contact sports or other activities that may cause you to collide with a person or object
If your port isn’t used often, a nurse will need to flush it regularly to prevent blood clots and blockages.
After the port is implanted you may have some pain or discomfort, but this usually resolves in a day or two. Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) will usually help ease post-surgery pain.
After the incision heals, you can do everything you would normally do: household chores, work tasks, and your usual exercise routine. However, you’ll want to avoid playing any contact sports while you have a port.
If you find that wearing a seatbelt is uncomfortable once you have a port implanted, put a small, folded towel between the strap and your body to help reduce the friction or pressure.
For the most part, though, you shouldn’t feel any pain once the incisions have healed from the implantation surgery. If you have any pain or discomfort, let your doctor or treatment team know. They can address this issue and find solutions.
Ports can stay in the body for months or even years. But once your treatment is over and you don’t need your port anymore, your doctor will schedule an appointment to remove it.
As with the implantation surgery, removing a port involves a short, outpatient procedure, that’s typically done with local anesthesia. You’ll be awake but drowsy during the procedure.
To remove your port, your doctor will make a small incision in the area of the port and will remove the port as well as the catheter that leads to a vein. The incision will then be closed up, and you’ll follow the care instructions of your treatment team.
Frequent chemotherapy treatments and blood draws can be painful and taxing on your veins. A chemotherapy port can help reduce needle sticks and make it easier for your healthcare team to administer medications and fluids and to do blood draws.
If your doctor suggests a chemotherapy port, talk with them about the risks and benefits and what it will mean for your treatment.