A port, also known as venous access or a port-a-catheter, allows you to have regular blood draws and receive chemotherapy without the necessity of having a new IV inserted each time. It is a small device, no larger than the size of a quarter, that is surgically implanted into the upper chest underneath the collarbone. While most ports are inserted under the skin in the chest region, they may in some instances also be placed in the inner side of the upper arm or in the abdomen.
While a port does raise the skin a bit, it is relatively un-noticeable and should not cause a lot of discomfort.
During lab tests or when receiving treatment, your medical oncology team places a needle into the port reservoir and can draw blood or administer chemotherapy through it.
A port can remain in your body for as long as needed to complete your treatment course.
There are two different types of ports used for chemotherapy delivery. The one your care team recommends will depend on your individual situation and treatment plan.
- Single lumen. This port is the most frequently used and allows for one access point.
- Double lumen. This port is better for patients who require multiple drug delivery at the same time and offers two access points.
Regardless of the port type, once treatment administration or a blood draw is complete, the port reseals itself.
A port is an outpatient procedure and therefore, is performed by either a surgeon or an interventional radiologist.
Your surgeon or radiologist will provide you with specific instructions on how to prepare for your port insertion. In general, you will be asked to:
- Avoid using lotions, creams, powder, deodorant or perfume in the area the day of the procedure
- Provide a list of medications you typically take to your care team, and potentially not take some of them prior to your procedure (your care team will advise what you can and cannot take)
- Fast prior to the procedure and arrange transportation home
Prior to having a port insertion, you will receive anesthesia to put you into a light sleep so you don’t feel anything. Once you are asleep, your provider will use a fluoroscopy, which is an x-ray that shows images in real time, to help guide him or her during the procedure. They will make an incision in the area where the port will be located and place it under the skin. Before closing the incision, your provider will double check everything is in place appropriately through an x-ray.
How long does a port insertion take?
Port insertions are typically performed on an outpatient basis and often are completed in an hour’s time, though travel time to and from the institution may be longer.
Is a port insertion painful?
You may experience a little discomfort following a port insertion procedure. In most instances, the discomfort can be managed with over-the-counter pain medication.
In general, ports are safe and necessary for you to receive your treatment. As with any medical procedure, there is a possibility of complications, including infection, scarring or blood clots. There is also a very small risk of pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Your safety is always our first concern. Your care team is experienced in recognizing and addressing any potential complications. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Port insertion recovery
Typically, you will experience some soreness after a port insertion and you may be asked to limit physical activity for a short period of time. Your care team will also advise on when you can begin showering and be submerged in water again. Typically, these activities do not have to be halted for long periods of time and can resume as soon as your incision has fully healed.
Your care team will provide you with any instructions on how to care for your port after your procedure.
After your port is inserted, you should be able to begin chemotherapy right away.
A port removal procedure is typically shorter than the insertion procedure and is done in an office or hospital setting. Your surgeon or radiologist will use local anesthesia and sometimes light sedation. Then they will make a small incision prior to pulling it out. You will then receive stitches to close the incision.
Recovery after a port removal
Because a port removal is sometimes performed in an office setting, you can typically drive yourself after the procedure. You may have some general discomfort, which is often managed by over-the-counter pain medication. Your care team will advise you on any additional aftercare instructions. If it is performed in a hospital setting under sedation, you will need to arrange for transportation home.
Port insertions and removals are covered by most insurance plans. However, contact your specific insurance carrier to learn what is covered in your individual situation.
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