What exactly are Chemo ports and what are they used for?
A chemo port is a vascular access device used for administering chemotherapy which are meant to be given intravenously(directly into your circulation through your veins).
They can also be used to draw blood samples for various tests required to monitor your body’s status and reaction to the ongoing chemo, as explained in our article here.
It’s a safer way to give chemotherapy since it has a lesser chance of extravasation(leakage of fluid from vessels).
How does a chemo port work?
A chemo port is made up of a small reservoir that is implanted in the skin and is connected to a silicone tube that is attached to a vein. The reservoir is placed just under the skin and the connecting catheter enters a large vein.
In this device chemotherapy medications are delivered directly into the reservoir, after which the drug enters the bloodstream through the silicone tube.
It produces a slight swelling under the skin which can be covered by regular clothing.
Why is a chemo port inserted in the first place?
A chemo port is inserted because of two main reasons–
- If the patient requires chemotherapy treatment many times over a period of 6 months.
- If the patient’s veins are small, difficult to access and follow irregular paths.
– These make peripheral IV access difficult, and results in more frequent replacement of canulas, adding to patient pricks and discomfort.
When and how is a chemo port inserted?
A chemo port may be inserted before the administration of chemotherapy(preferably a week before chemotherapy) under local anaesthesia, or if the patient is undergoing a surgical procedure for cancer- a chemo port may be inserted under general anaesthesia.
An incision, an inch or two wide, is made and the reservoir is placed under the skin. The catheter is then attached to the reservoir while the other end of the catheter enters a vein. An xray is then performed to ensure proper port placement.
Before a port is inserted, it is important that the patient is well informed and aware about the advantages and disadvantages of having a chemo port inserted.
- The main advantages of inserting a port are lesser risk of extravasation, and is more comfortable as the patient does not have to be pricked every now and then.
- The disadvantages of having a port are the risk of infection at the port site which demands removal of the port. The other disadvantages are thrombus (clot formation) at the site of the port, limitations of activity and scar formation at the site of port insertion.
Since port insertion is a surgical procedure, there is a rare chance of accidental bleed due venous puncture and the risk of pneumothorax due to accidental puncture of the pleural space surrounding the lungs.
For how long can a chemo port be present?
A chemo port can be present under the skin for as long as the patient is receiving chemotherapy- for several months or even years. Once the treatment is complete it can be removed as a simple outpatient procedure.
Is it justified to use chemo ports over a shorter time period? Such as for 3 to 4 cycles.
Chemotherapy drugs are toxic agents that can cause damage to the peripheral veins. Besides, the veins present in the extremities are smaller in size and have a higher chance of extravasation.
Sometimes the veins may not be visible or may irregular, so trying to gain access to these veins may require multiple pricks causing the patient a lot of pain and discomfort.
For a shorter duration of chemotherapy, the drugs are preferably administered through IV lines located peripherally.
But in case the veins are not visible, or it is just not possible to gain IV access, a chemo port may always be preferred instead of going through all the discomfort.
Complications that arise from chemo ports are usually minor and can be handled easily by an experienced physician.