Can Getting a Port Make Your Cancer Treatment Easier?

Device allows quick access for chemotherapy, blood draws

Can Getting a Port Make Your Cancer Treatment Easier?

Cancer brings so many challenges that when you’re receiving treatment, anything that makes it more comfortable is probably a good thing.

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So when you need chemotherapy, frequent blood draws or infusions, your treatment team may decide to implant a small medical device (called a portal or port) under the skin that makes it easier to access your veins.

Walking around with something implanted in your body may seem a little weird to you. But a port can make your treatment both more comfortable and more effective.

Here are six things to know about what it’s like to have a port during cancer treatment.

1. Ports aren’t very big

The device consists of a portal (a small compartment) covered in a special self-sealing silicone with a catheter, or tube, attached to it. Your treatment team will insert the catheter into one of your main veins, and will position the portal just beneath your skin, usually on your chest.

The portal is only visible as a bump under your skin. They are typically about the size of a quarter.

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2. Implanting a port isn’t difficult

Your doctor can implant the port in an outpatient procedure. It only requires local anesthesia. Pain after the procedure can typically be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. Once you’ve healed from the surgery, the port likely won’t cause any discomfort at all.

3. A port can make cancer treatment easier

Being stuck by a needle multiple times so your treatment team can start IV lines and draw blood is painful. Chemotherapy drugs can damage your skin and the surrounding tissue.

With a port, your treatment team will still need to insert a needle into your skin. But it won’t have to go through other tissue, which means less pain. And the team will deliver treatments like chemotherapy directly to your vein. That means you’ll have less irritation at the injection site.

4. A port can expand your treatment options

A port can allow you to receive multiple treatments at once. Ports also make in-home chemotherapy easier. A needle can remain in a port for several days, making it ideal for treatments that take longer to administer.

5. Your port will require regular maintenance

Although ports are relatively hassle-free, your treatment team will need to flush it about once a month to keep it clear and working properly. However, they’ll probably do this while using the port for treatment, so it won’t require an extra doctor visit.

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6. You can keep a port for as long as you need it

It’s perfectly safe for a port to stay in place for months or even years, if needed. If your doctor has concerns about cancer recurrence, you may opt to keep the port in place in case you need more treatment.

And when you don’t need the port any longer, your doctor can remove it in a simple outpatient procedure.

Having a port implanted can make things easier for you and your care team for as long as you need treatment. It can put an end to the time spent locating a good vein every time you need an IV line or a blood draw and to the painful “sticks” that follow before your treatment can begin.

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Cancer Answer Nurses

Jamie Schwachter, BSN, MSN, NP-C and Josette Snyder, RN, MSN, AOCN are Advanced Practice Nurses for Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute’s Cancer Answer Line.
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