Your Portacath During Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment is one of the more common forms of treating patients with cancer. The purpose of chemotherapy is to actively go after and terminate cells that are dividing rapidly. Since cancer cells divide more quickly than normal cells, these cells are more affected by the use of chemotherapy.

Many types of chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously because most chemo drugs cannot be taken orally as they are either poorly absorbed into the digestive tract or because the body inactivates thed drugs after thay are ingested.

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.

About Portacaths
A portacath is a vascular device that allows chemotherapy to be given into the patient’s vein as well as allows for blood to be withdrawn for blood counts and blood checks. Ports are placed underneath the skin and into a large vein, usually underneath the clavicle, but sometimes other veins are used. The port is completely covered by skin, so there are no wires, or other catheters, hanging outside of the skin.

Once the port is installed, a patient comes in for their treatment and a needle is placed through the skin into the port-a-cath chamber and blood can be withdrawn from that chamber and chemotherapy treatment can be given into the chamber through an intravenously.

Advantages of Using Portacaths
Using a portacath to administer chemotherapy drugs is a safe way to provide cancer treatment and is less likely to result in leakage of any chemo drugs out of the vein, which could potentially cause damage to the skin, muscles or any other tissues.

One of the biggest advantages to using a portacath for chemotherapy treatment is that the port can be accessed repeatedly without damaging the vein, or causing any other problems that might occur from using smaller peripheral veins, such as those in the arms.

When the patient completele’s their scheduled chemotherapy treatment, the needle will be removed from the port and from the skin, so that when the patient goes home there are no needles, catheters or anything else that requires care. Patients simply need to keep the skin clean and dry.

The Portacath Procedure
The procedure to install a port for chemotherapy is generally a minor surgical procedure and can be done as an outpatient procedure. There may be some discomfort when the portacath is initially placed by the surgeon, but that should heal up and eventually the patient should not even notice it. Sometimes there may be a little bit of discomfort when the needle is placed, but there are medicines and creams that can be used to reduce the sting when the needle is first inserted.

When You’ve Completed Your Cancer Treatment
Once a patient has completed their cancer treatment and they no longer require chemotherapy, the portacath can be removed as a simple outpatient procedure. It may leave a small scar, but generally there are no complications from this procedure.

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 on Using Chemotherapy Ports from a Cancer Patient!
Cancer patient Mary Beth Meeches talks about her experience of using chemo ports during her chemotherapy treatment.
Watch her video on using portacaths during chemotherapy!