If you’re living with breast cancer, you might need chemotherapy as part of your treatment. The type of chemo you receive and how it’s delivered will vary based on your specific diagnosis, but your doctor may recommend that you have a medical device called a chemo port implanted.
It’s natural to have questions about which activities you can do when you have a chemo port, and the best approach is to ask your medical team. They know the specifics of your particular cancer and your port, so they can give you answers that pertain to your situation. However, here are some general guidelines for some popular activities when you have a chemo port.
A more permanent alternative to a traditional intravenous (IV) tube, a chemo port is a small medical device that is implanted under your skin — most often in the upper part of your chest, with a tube that goes into a blood vessel. These ports usually have either one or two access points that can be used for collecting blood samples or administering medications.
Having a chemo port implanted is considered a surgical procedure, so you’ll need to be careful as to what activities you participate in while your chemo port site is healing. These activities include using an infrared sauna, swimming in a pool, and spending time in a steam room.
Many MyBCTeam members have asked what they can and cannot do with a chemo port in place, like one who said, “I have expanders and a portacath in, and was wondering if it’s OK to use an infrared sauna?”
More research is needed to definitively determine whether saunas are safe for people with chemo ports — or, in general, for people with cancer. Some early research shows that infrared radiation may be helpful for some types of cancer and that it may have other health benefits, but it is far from conclusive.
That said, you may simply enjoy sitting in the infrared sauna, whether or not it’s part of your breast cancer treatment. There’s not much research on whether or not you can safely do this with a chemo port installed, however, and no medical organizations have issued any formal guidelines.
Therefore, the best thing you can do is to hold off until you can speak with your doctor. Using a traditional sauna with a chemo port may be safe once your skin has healed — but you will want to make sure that the specific types of infrared radiation your sauna emits are safe before you use it.
Once your chemo port insertion site has healed, you’ll likely be able to swim as often as you’d like without an increased risk of infection. Swimming is good exercise for everyone, and it may be more accessible to people who are undergoing breast cancer treatment because it’s a low-impact activity that can help you maintain your cardiovascular health. You may need to limit your swimming to sanitized pools and avoid swimming in places where you could be exposed to bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
Before you swim, talk to your medical team. Additionally, make sure that you have a chemo port and not a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line or a central venous catheter (e.g., a Hickman line), as swimming with these is unsafe. Additionally, although your medical team shouldn’t send you home with needles still attached to your chemo port, you should ensure there aren’t any present before you start swimming.
If you didn’t swim regularly before your breast cancer diagnosis, work with your doctor or a qualified trainer to come up with a plan that allows you to be active without pushing yourself too hard, especially during treatments.
Before using a steam room or steam sauna with a chemo port, you should always discuss it with your physician. They may recommend against being exposed to heat while you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Study up on which kind of steam room you plan to use before you talk to your doctor, as their recommendation may depend on the room’s air temperature, as well as whether you plan to use a wet heat steam room or a dry heat room.
If your doctor does give you the go-ahead, be on the lookout for any redness, warmth, or pain on your skin near your chemo port — these could be signs of infection and should be reported to your doctor.
You can participate in many activities while you have a chemo port implanted. You should be able to shower and bathe normally, and your port shouldn’t interfere much with your daily life once it has healed.
If you plan to participate in any strenuous activities, make sure you speak to your doctor beforehand. You should also consider your energy levels during treatment and whether you think you’ll be able to do what you want without getting exhausted.
In general, you’ll need to avoid activities that put too much pressure on the port or the silicone line under it. Additionally, steer clear of activities that pose a risk of introducing any sort of infection or other microbe into the port or the skin under it — though this is rare.
You may need to wait until your port is removed and the site is healed before engaging in activities such as weightlifting or other exercises involving upper-body movement. You can often stimulate the same muscles with different exercises, but you may need to talk to a trainer to figure out how.
When you approach your doctor for medical advice about what you can and cannot do with your chemo port, bring as many details as possible. For example, if you have questions about using an infrared sauna, be prepared to share the type of sauna, the temperature you want it to be, and the types of infrared rays it exposes you to. The more details your doctors have, the more accurate answers they will be able to give you. Certain details may determine whether your get a “yes” or a “no.”
You and your doctor can also weigh how important the activity is for you. If you need to do certain activities for your mental health, wellness, or overall sense of well-being, your doctor may be able to help you figure out how to keep doing them safely while you have your chemo port.
On MyBCTeam — the social network for people with breast cancer, and their loved ones — more than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Are you wondering what you can do with a chemo port? If you have or have had one, what recommendations can you share? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.