A chemotherapy port is a small piece of equipment that a doctor implants into some patients undergoing cancer treatment. It contains a tube that fits into a vein as well as a port outside the vein, just under the skin, that allows the patient to receive injections of drugs. Typically, a person undergoing chemotherapy has to receive regular doses of the anticancer drug, and if the person needs to have his or her treatment through injections, a chemotherapy port can reduce the discomfort caused by repeated injections.
Some anticancer drugs need to be delivered into the body through an injection, as they can damage the gastrointestinal system if they are swallowed. In addition, sometimes only a portion of the drug in a tablet is absorbed. Some cancer patients may, therefore, benefit from injections of the anticancer drugs instead of through any other delivery method.
When a doctor wishes to insert a chemotherapy port into a patient, he or she makes a small cut in the skin of the chest or the arm. General anesthetic is not usually required, and the patient is awake; local anesthetic is often used so the patient cannot feel the cut. The doctor slides the tube portion of the port, which is also known as a catheter, into a vein. Once this is in place, he or she places the chemotherapy port inside the cut under the skin. After he or she stitches the patient's incision back up, the port stays securely in place, and is safe to remain there for up to several years.
The port does not contain any medicines, but rather acts as a gateway for the chemotherapy drug into the body. The skin covering the port, and the port itself protect the vein and the tissue surrounding it from damage. A possible complication of the port insertion is infection, however, and this results in symptoms like fever, redness or swelling around the incision site. Most often, though, a patient with a chemotherapy port experiences no complications.
As cancer is caused by rapidly dividing cells, and anticancer drugs tend to have strong and toxic effects on the body, the treatment needs to be given over a period of time with interludes for recovery time. Each time the patient with a port receives the drug, the nurse applies anesthetic cream to the skin over the port, and then sticks a needle through the skin into the port. He or she can then administer the drug through this needle and into the vein.
Maintenance of the port is on a monthly basis, as it requires flushing to keep the tubes clear and free of infection. The patient may be able to to this at home, or a nurse may perform it. When the patient's treatment is complete, the doctor removes the port in a relatively simple operation that usually doesn't require general anesthetic.