cancer / Health

Everything you wanted to know about Chemo Ports

by travelsdor -

I had a chemo port placement and chemo port removal for chemotherapy in 2012 and in August, 2015, I accompanied my sister for a chemo port placement.

A port differs from a PICC line as a port is surgically implanted into your body and has a tube or catheter that is connected to an artery or major vein.  It can stay in for several years if need be.  A port saves your veins and becomes your good friend during Chemotherapy and with the countless blood tests that go with it!  You may wonder if it is worth everything you have to go through to have a port.  My answer would be, yes, as it does save your veins!

Port Placement

The port is surgically implanted – can be right or left side of chest depending upon if you had a Mastectomy or not or what your Oncologist orders.  It looks like this:

When I had my port put in, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.  It is an outpatient surgical procedure with a pre-op room, operating room, surgery, and recovery room.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but not that much fanfare!  The actual procedure took about an hour.  The surgical team gives you twilight sleep, but it didn’t do anything for me.  I was wide awake and remembered the entire procedure.  They asked if I wanted more so I would fall asleep.  I did not.  I hate that drugged up feeling, but everyone is different!  My sister said she did fall asleep during some of the procedure.

The surgeon numbs the area with  Lanacane, a novocaine-type drug, makes an incision, the tube is connected to the artery or vein, and then the port itself is sutured into your body.  Then the area is stitched closed, and they take you to recovery.  I was not able to drive home and was warned ahead of time to bring a driver.  I also had to take it easy for 3 days with no lifting, stooping, or using my upper body.   I felt quite fine after port placement, but my sister had a different experience.  She was very light-headed and weak from the twilight sleep meds.  And her blood pressure plummeted.  It is really the best idea if you have a wheelchair to leave the post-op area.  My sister would have collapsed had she not been in the wheelchair.  But as soon as I got some food into her (salty soup) and got more fluids into her, she started feeling better immediately.

Before you have your port placed, it is a great idea to ask the surgeon where it is going to be placed.  If they can avoid your bra straps, this will help enormously in the future as many women complain greatly about this.

My surgical area hurt like crazy for 2 weeks.  Many people have no pain at all.   My theory that mine hurt so much was because I had a heavy breast on that side and wasn’t able to wear a tighter bra because I had a Mastectomy just 3 weeks before the port placement.  So my breast pulled on the incision.   I took Motrin, but it really didn’t cut the pain that much.  The majority of people do not have the kind of pain that I did.

The other thing I wasn’t prepared for is how the port disrupts your sleep.  I was not able to sleep on the side with the port for over 6 months!  Since I had a mastectomy on the other side, it was sleeping on my back or nothing!   Then one day, all of a sudden, all discomfort left, and I was able to sleep on that side.

During Chemo, my port worked most of the time.   On 4 occasions, the port got clogged up.  So the Chemo Nurses would have me do all kinds of acrobatics to get it to unclog.  They were always successful with almost standing on your head (wig fell off once!), lying back in a chair, or putting your hands over your head and coughing!  It always worked.  They do have drugs they can insert into the port to unclog if necessary.  Thankfully, I did not need that done.

Your Oncologist will let you know when the port can be removed.  In the interim, if it is not being tapped for chemo or blood tests, you must have a port flush at least once per month at your local blood draw lab or Oncologist’s office.

I have gotten letters from people who have had their ports in for as long as 10 years!  They were afraid to take them out or afraid of recurrence.  Those are legitimate fears, but trust me, taking it out as quickly as your Oncologist recommends is the best advice I can give.

Port Removal

Port removal is not as traumatic as port insertion.  For one thing, you are so happy to have it out!  First, blood tests are done to check your platelets and clotting factor.  Mine were normal, so they were able to proceed.  They have to make sure your blood will clot and that you don’t keep bleeding out of the artery.  Good idea, huh?

At my medical facility,  the removal was done in a surgical room, but not a full-blown operating room.  Two assistants prepped me and my chest area.  They did not offer me any drugs or twilight sleep.   My surgeon told me that everyone gets really tough during Chemotherapy, so drugs usually aren’t necessary.  He was serious and spoke truth!

The surgeon numbed the area with Lanacane.  First he made an incision then surgically removed the catheter from the artery.  He had to put pressure on that area for about 5 to 7 minutes to make sure the bleeding stopped.  Then he removed the port by cutting the sutures that held it in place.  Again, he put pressure on the area for several minutes.  Once the port was out, he made an inside row of dissolving stitches and an outside row of dissolving stitches.

The procedure itself took about 30 minutes.   I was given instructions to take it easy for 3 days, again not stooping, lifting, or exerting my upper body.  The Lanacane is wearing off as I write this, and it is starting to hurt a little.  This pain will be fine with Motrin!  I can tell that already!

There you have it.  Everything you wanted to know about your Chemo Port!  I hope the information is helpful!

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