Giving hope to those affected
by secondary breast cancer

Research. Support. Education.


12th March 2022 by Claire O'Donnell Education

equipment for intravenous chemotherapy

A PICC line - peripherally inserted central catheter line - is used to give someone chemotherapy treatment or other medicines.

A PICC line is a long, thin, hollow, flexible tube called a catheter. It is put into one of the large veins of the arm, above the bend of the elbow. Then it is threaded into the vein until the tip is in a large vein just above the heart.

The line is usually sealed with a special cap or bung. This can be attached to a drip or syringe containing your chemotherapy or medication. There may be a clamp to keep the line closed when it is not being used.

Sometimes it divides into 2 or 3 lines. This allows you to have different treatments at the same time.


What is a PICC line used for:

A PICC line can be used to give you treatments such as:

  • chemotherapy
  • blood transfusions
  • antibiotics
  • intravenous (IV) fluids
  • liquid food if you are not able to eat.

It can also be used to take samples of your blood for testing.

If you have a PICC line, you will not need to have needles put in every time you have treatment. This can be helpful if doctors and nurses find it difficult to get needles into your veins. It is also helpful if you do not like needles.

You can go home with the PICC line in. It can be left in for weeks or months.


Looking after your PICC line:

When the PICC line is not being used, there is a slight risk of it becoming blocked. To stop this from happening, a small amount of fluid is flushed into the line using a syringe. This is usually done once a week.

The caps or bungs at the end of the line need to be changed each week to reduce the risk of infection. The dressing also needs to be changed every week. If it gets wet or starts to peel off, it should be changed sooner.

It is difficult to change the dressing with one hand, so the nurses at the hospital may do it for you or arrange for a district nurse to visit you at home. They can also teach a family member, partner or friend how to change the dressing.

When you are at home, it is safe for you to have a shower or bath with your PICC line in. Your nurse can give you waterproof covers to stop the line getting wet.


Possible Problems with a PICC line:

  • Infection
  • Blood Clots
  • Blocked PICC line
  • Air in the PICC line
  • Loose PICC line
  • Break or Cut in the PICC line

*it’s important to contact your medical team as soon as you have a problem with your PICC line*


How a PICC line is removed:

When you do not need a PICC line anymore, it will be taken out. A nurse will usually do this for you in an outpatient department. The line will be gently pulled out, and the area where the PICC line was put in will be covered with a dressing. This is painless and only takes a few minutes