A Port-a-Cath (or “port”) is a device which is used to deliver medications into the bloodstream. The port is positioned underneath the skin. It is about the size of a quarter, and half an inch thick. The port is visible as a small raised area below the skin. Medication is carried from the port into the bloodstream through a small flexible tube called a catheter.
Who Gets a Port
Ports have many uses:
- To deliver chemotherapy to cancer patients
- To deliver antibiotics for long periods of time
- To deliver intravenous nutrition in patients who are unable to eat
- To deliver blood products in patients with blood diseases
The port is placed during a short day-surgery procedure. Often the operation can be performed with IV sedation and local anesthetic. In the operating room your surgeon will select the appropriate location for your port. The most common area is below the collarbone in your upper chest. The port is placed in a pocket underneath the skin. It is then connected to a catheter which is tunneled under the skin. The catheter will be inserted into the bloodstream. The incisions are closed, and no tubes or catheters stick out of the skin.
How Does the Port Work
The port can be used as soon as the operation is over. Sometimes patients will start treatment the same day of the procedure. A nurse will access the port with a special needle called a huber needle. It is placed directly through the skin into the port. Most patients feel a mild pricking sensation during the insertion. This sensation decreases over time. The port can also be used to draw blood for tests.
As with any surgery, there are risks. Complications are not common but you should be aware of the possibility. Complications can include, but are not limited to:
- Injury to blood vessels
- Injury to the lung (“pneumothorax”)
- Catheter malfunction
- Catheter infection
- Deep venous thrombosis
- Need for further procedures
- Anesthetic complications
After the operation you will be taken to a recovery area. You will be watched for 1-2 hours until the sedation wears off. A chest X-ray will be taken to confirm the position of the catheter and to check for signs of complications such as pneumothorax. Avoid any strenuous activity for one week. After one week you can resume physical activity. You will not harm the catheter or port. Typically it will be safe to resume showering 24-48 hours after the surgery. Also please wait to swim or submerge the incision under water for 10 days. You will be given a mild narcotic or ibuprofen for pain control. The port can remain in place for as long as you need treatment. When it is time for the port to be removed this can usually be done in the office with local anesthetic.