Giving hope to those affected
by secondary breast cancer

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26th March 2022 by Claire O'Donnell Education

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Let’s find out more about Portacaths.


Chemotherapy requires people to receive frequent doses of intravenous therapy over a long period; a portacath is a small piece of medical equipment that can make this procedure more comfortable for patients.  It is a combination of a portal and a catheter, sometimes referred to as a ‘port’ which sits under the skin on the chest. The entrance of a portacath, or its port, lets medication through and then seals itself shut. It is made of silicone.

The plastic catheter part is slender, allowing the medical team to thread it into large veins. The catheter makes it possible for people to receive treatment quickly. 

To access the portacath, a narrow needle is inserted into the skin at the site of the port.

They are almost unnoticeable and typically appear as a small bump under the skin of the chest.  They are generally not painful and people prefer them because they cause less discomfort than frequent needle punctures.

Sometimes portacaths are fitted using a general anaesthetic to make it painless. The area in the body where the portacath is fitted can be sore for a few days afterward. 

Inserting a portacath is a minor procedure that takes about 1 hour.  Surgeons make one or two cuts into the skin of the chest and thread the catheter through the cuts. Next, they attach the port to the catheter.  The placement of the portacath is checked using an X-ray.

There is no need to dress or change them routinely.  Most people can maintain a full and active life, including swimming, with a portacath. 

Flushing is a term that describes a maintenance procedure for making sure that a portacath remains free of clots or blockages. It also helps prevent complications.  You can flush the portacath by rinsing it in a saline solution and blood thinners.  

Ports can be useful when people need frequent IV treatments over a long period, such as for secondary breast cancer chemotherapy treatment, which involves a lot of needles, which many people find uncomfortable.   It’s also challenging having to spend time searching for veins each time.  A portacath removes these issues, as it provides a direct pathway into the veins and can also be used to draw blood for tests.

There are different types of Portacaths:

  1. Single lumen: The most common type of port, this helps people getting only one form of IV therapy at a time.
  2. Double lumen: This type is helpful for people who are getting two forms of IV therapy at the same time or need to receive infusions or nutrition during treatment.
  3. Power port: This type is strong enough to work with high pressure injections, such as those for a CT scan with contrast dye.

A portacath can be very beneficial - 

It’s an alternative to needles - portacaths bypass the pain and potential risks of using needle sticks for every treatment or blood draw.

It lowers infection risk - portacaths carry a lower risk of infection than other IV methods.

Easy care - they are simple to care for at home.

Long duration - portacaths stay usable for a long time.  

Hidden appearance - portacaths sit under the skin.

While a portacath is beneficial, some less common risks to be aware of are:

Local infections - the skin around the insertion site could become infected and need antibiotics.

Clots - if a clot develops in or around a portacath, doctors use blood thinners to remove it.


Do you have a Portacath?