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How Patients With Cancer Can Best Care For Their Chemo Port


A port, also known as a port-a-cath, among other names, is a device that is surgically implanted under a patient’s skin, typically on the right side of the chest. This allows cancer teams to draw blood and give treatments such as blood transfusions, intravenous fluids or drugs like antibiotics and chemotherapy without the need for constant pokes.

“I think ports are phenomenal, I really do,” Allegra B. Bell, M.S.N., RN, OCN, a clinical nurse manager in the Department of Solid Oncology at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, said in an interview with CURE®. “Obviously (ports) come with their inherent risks, but I always say, ‘You have enough pain and suffering; you don’t need to be poked three times for your blood in the morning. You have it already accessed.’ We can just do a quick little flush, draw your blood and be out of your hair. That ease that it provides was really beneficial.”

CURE® spoke with Bell to learn more about ports and how patients can take care of them to prevent infection and other complications.

CURE®: Are there any issues associated with ports?

Bell: A port is used as a delivery system that goes directly into a patient’s central system and the tip of the port stays right outside their heart. Bacteria on a patient’s skin may get introduced into their system, which can cause widespread infection.

How can patients keep their chemo port clean?

When the port is in use with the dressing, nurses own that responsibility, which can include keeping the area clean at all times with an antimicrobial wipe. At home, the patient should maintain good hygiene and monitor for any signs of change near the port such as redness, inflammation, fever, pus, peeling or signs that it may be infected.

Are there times when a patient should call the cancer care team about any chemo port complications?

Even in (patients who are) most diligent, whenever something foreign like a port is placed inside the body, it can cause infections, although it is uncommon. Be sure to monitor the area where a port is placed, especially after it is implanted.

How long do patients typically have a chemo port implanted?

Patients usually have a port implanted for the duration of their chemotherapy treatment. If the port isn’t being actively used, guidelines recommend that nurses flush it every four weeks with heparin to make sure it is still functioning. Once it has been shown that a patient’s chemotherapy treatment was successful, the port can be removed.

Can patients feel where a chemo port is placed in their body?

Patients shouldn’t feel any discomfort with the port, which is about the size of a quarter. If anything, it feels like a little pin cushion underneath the skin. Otherwise, it lies flat on a patient’s body.

What are chemo ports typically used for in patients with cancer?

Ports can be used for chemotherapy (which can be damaging to small veins), blood draws, continuous IV fluids, continuous antibiotics or a medication delivery system for long-term use.

Should patients with cancer and a chemo port implanted avoid certain products like perfumes?

Avoiding scents and detergents is more of a personal preference. Port care is more about being conscious of a patient’s body and what it may respond to.

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