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Chemo Port and Sex: Safety Tips and More

Medically reviewed by Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Posted on August 2, 2023

If you have chemotherapy (chemo) for breast cancer, a chemo port may be placed to help deliver your medications. While you’re focused on the goals of treatment and recovery, quality of life is also an important concern. Some MyBCTeam members have discussed how a chemo port might affect physical intimacy.

One member asked, “My port goes in tomorrow. How does that impact sex? Do I need to keep it from being bumped?”

Whether you recently had a port placed or have been living with one for months, here are some tips and guidance to help you avoid pain, discomfort, or difficulties during sexual activity.

Understanding the Chemo Port

Before discussing the challenges of chemo and sex, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what a chemo port is. A chemo port, also known as an implanted venous access device, is a small medical device surgically placed under the skin. It’s connected to a tube (called a catheter) that leads to a large vein, usually in the chest area. The port allows health care professionals to deliver intravenous chemo drugs directly into your blood and draw samples for blood tests, reducing the need for constant needle insertions.

Chemo port placement is a minor surgery usually done as an outpatient procedure. Although it’s very rare to have complications from a chemo port insertion or removal, make sure to talk to your health care team if you experience troublesome side effects or prolonged pain.

Potential Challenges of Sex With a Chemo Port

For many people, sexual health is an important part of overall health and wellness while living with breast cancer. Intimacy has been shown to reduce feelings of distress during cancer treatment. If having a fulfilling sex life is a priority for you and your partner, then it’s important for your mental and physical health to maintain this connection while undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Many members have questions and concerns about having sex after implantation or removal of a chemo port.

When the Chemo Port Is Placed

After a chemo port is placed, common side effects include bruising, drainage, redness, and swelling at the insertion site. Members of MyBCTeam have also reported neck pain and other symptoms. For the first few days after the port is placed, you may want to take a break from sexual activity as your body heals. Whenever you feel ready to be intimate, as long as you are following your surgeon’s guidance about protecting your wound, you’re free to start having sex again.

Chemo ports can stay in for weeks, months, and even years. In the long term, some people reported continued soreness when direct pressure is placed on their port. One member said, “The only issue I had was things laying on my port.” Lying flat on your chest may irritate the area where your port is located. Another shared, “The only time my port hurts is if my husband accidently leans against it.” For some, direct touch may cause discomfort and pain. If you’re experiencing similar symptoms, it’s important to communicate them before or during sex so you and your partner can adjust accordingly.

However, most members reported that they had no special considerations when having sex with a chemo port. “As long as you’re comfortable, go for it!” a member advised.

After the Chemo Port Removal

Some people worry about having sex after the chemo port is removed. The process of removal involves your surgeon making a small cut over the area, removing the port, and closing up the cut with stitches. Chemo port removal side effects include bruising, soreness, swelling, and mild discomfort. Just as with any other healing wound, it’s important to follow aftercare instructions from your surgeon and ask when it’s OK to resume physical (and sexual) activity.

Tips for Safe Intimacy

If you’re new to the chemo port and have concerns about sex, it may reassure you to learn about ways to overcome potential challenges. Continue reading for some tips on intimacy while you’re undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Communicate Openly

Honest communication between partners is always essential. Discuss any concerns, fears, or discomfort related to the chemo port and sexual activity with your partner. Sharing emotions and seeking support can strengthen your bond.

It’s important to note that you should never feel pressured to have sex while undergoing breast cancer treatment — you should only engage in intimacy if you feel up to it. If your sex drive is lower than usual, this is normal during treatment. Be open with your partner about these changes and what’s causing them.

Make an Emotional Connection

Emotional intimacy plays a crucial role in sexual satisfaction. Focus on building and maintaining emotional closeness with your partner through communication, gestures of affection, and shared experiences. Understanding and supporting each other’s needs can enhance your experience.

Allow for Timing and Healing

After port placement or removal, there may be a period of soreness or healing. One member shared, “Your port site may be a little sore for a few days, but after that ... you go, girl!” You should consult with your oncology team to determine when it’s safe to engage in sex during treatment, including after port insertion.

Take a Gentle Touch

When engaging in intimate activities, take care to be gentle around the chemo port area. Avoid placing excessive pressure on or around the port, as it may cause discomfort or pain. Being mindful of the port’s location can help ensure a more comfortable experience.

Add Lubrication

Vaginal dryness or discomfort during sexual activity are among the side effects of chemotherapy. Using water-based lubricants can help reduce friction and increase comfort. It’s best to choose hypoallergenic lubricants without irritants or allergens.

Use Protection

When you’re going through chemotherapy, remember to always use one or more methods of birth control. This should include barrier protection, such as condoms for penetration and a dental dam for oral sex, to reduce the risk of infection through bodily fluids. It may also include hormonal birth control, such as the pill or the implant, to ensure that you don’t get pregnant during breast cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs can negatively affect a pregnancy, causing birth defects and pregnancy loss.

Try Different Positions

Along with following these general tips for having positive sexual experiences while undergoing chemo, you may find some sexual positions to be more comfortable than others while living with a chemo port.

Experiment with different sexual positions to find options that are comfortable and safe. Everyone’s preferences and limitations vary, but certain positions are generally well tolerated by individuals with a chemo port. Some positions to consider include:

  • Side lying — This position can be comfortable and gentle on the chemo port area. Partners can face each other or be back to back, depending on their preferences.
  • Spooning — Similar to side lying, spooning allows for closeness while minimizing pressure on the chest area.
  • Elevated upper body — Using pillows or an adjustable bed, lift the upper body to reduce pressure on the port during sexual activity.
  • On top — In this position, the person with the chemo port can have more control over the depth and speed of intercourse, without the risk of bumping the port area.
  • Supportive pillows and cushions — Placing pillows or cushions can provide additional support and reduce pressure on the chemo port area during sex.

Experiment with different positions and arrangements to find what works best for you and your partner.

Speak to Your Doctor

Try to let go of embarrassment when bringing up questions about sex and intimacy with your oncologist or breast cancer nurse. Your cancer care team should understand that your sexual health is an important part of your cancer journey.

If you ever have concerns or questions about how your chemo port or other aspects of your breast cancer treatment may affect your sex life, bring them up with a health care provider that you know and trust. You may also choose to talk about intimacy and cancer treatment in a support group such as MyBCTeam.

Find Your Team

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 experiences with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Have you found ways to avoid problems while having sex with a chemo port? What advice do you have for others in the same situation? Share your experience in the comments below or join the conversation on your Activities page.

Posted on August 2, 2023
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Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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