When chemotherapy is given intravenously, the drugs are usually injected into a vein directly above the heart, so that the drug is quickly pumped throughout the body.
As chemotherapy is given multiple times per week, a portacath, or port, is installed to make these injections easier to administer.
Breast cancer survivor Mary Beth Meeches recalls her experience of using a portacath for chemo, or chemotherapy, treatment, finding the port to be both helpful and easy to use.
The procedure itself is considered a minor, out-patient surgery, which places the port underneath the skin and into a large vein near the clavicle. “They put you to sleep for about a half hour. And they put the port in,” she recalls.
Mary recalls how on many cancer patients she couldn’t even tell that they had ports. Her port stuck out a little. “I guess I’m real think by my collarbone, so it stuck out a little.” But overall, she remembers the port as comfortable and providing some great benefits.
“Some of the chemicals they use when you’re having your chemo can burn you if they touch your skin, so you never would want to take a chance with that,” Mary Beth mentions. And because the port could be used over and over again for both the drawing of blood, as well as providing intravenous chemo drugs, “It saved you from losing veins. And that was the greatest part,” she adds. “Before ports they had to find veins. And now these people really don’t have veins left that are really good. That’s the scary part”.
When the patient completes their chemotherapy treatments, sometimes the patients are asked to continue on with their ports a while longer, possibly for more blood tests or other treatments. “Just in case they found something else that is suspicious, so they can keep using that port.”
“But taking it out was no big deal,” Mary Beth remembers when her port was taken out, which, again was a minor, out-patient procedure. The day she had her port taken out, Mary Beth was told to take it easy. “But I was up going around doing stuff right away,” she says.
Aside from some chemotherapy side-effects like hair-loss, Mary Beth found the experience of using a portacath during her chemotherapy treatment very helpful and easy. When she still had the port, Mary Beth remembers asking everyone she met, who had a port, if they found them to be as wonderful as she did. “And they’re like, “Oh, yeah””, she says.
In some cases, your cancer physician may ask you to keep the port even though the patient has finished their last chemotherapy cycle. There may be additional blood draws that are required or possible additional chemo treatments administered.
In these instances, the portacath should be flushed once a month, as this will help prevent any blood clots from forming in the catheter.
More Information Portacaths
Oncologist Stephen Lemon, MD explains more about ports and how to use them during chemotherapy.
Learn how to use ports during chemotherapy.