Chemotherapy, a common treatment for breast cancer, may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Some types of chemotherapy drugs need to be given intravenously, which may mean getting a lot of needle sticks. To avoid this, doctors may insert a chemo port, which allows the medications to be more easily administered. This device is surgically implanted before treatments and then taken out after chemotherapy is complete.
A chemo port consists of two parts. A small reservoir (chamber that can hold fluid) sits just underneath your skin. The reservoir is attached to a thin tube that connects it directly to a vein. Chemotherapy can be injected into the chemo port rather than placing a needle into your vein each time you get a chemo treatment.
There are several advantages to getting a chemo port. A chemo port may:
“I can’t imagine doing chemo without a port,” shared one member of MyBCTeam. “All the blood work and 16 rounds of chemo — it made it so much easier.” Another member commented, “The port is a godsend. It is the magic doorway to keeping your arms protected.”
Chemo ports are most often inserted in the upper part of your chest, near a large vein. If you had cancer in one breast, the port will likely be placed on the other side. If you had tumors in both breasts, your doctor may place the port on the side that had fewer lymph nodes removed.
You will likely be able to see the port’s outline, which is circular and about the size of a quarter. “Mine looked like a marble under my skin,” said one member. “You do get used to it.”
You may have a single or double chemo port. The most common type is a single port containing one place to insert a needle. A double port, which allows your cancer care team to place two needles at once, may be given to someone who needs to receive multiple treatments or fluids at a time.
Brand names of ports include Mediport, BardPort, Infusaport, and Port-A-Cath. These ports all work in similar ways.
A chemo port is a type of central venous catheter (CVC or central line), a device that makes it easier to deliver drugs or fluids directly into the blood. You may also have the option of getting a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, a small tube that connects to a vein at one end. The other end remains outside your skin, usually on the arm.
Your port will need to be placed with outpatient surgery before you undergo chemotherapy. The port can be used immediately, the same day that it is put in.
Your doctor should tell you how to prepare for surgery, such as removing other devices like insulin pumps. In the operating room, after monitors are placed, you will be given anesthesia to put you to sleep or keep you comfortable.
During surgery, the doctor will make two incisions (cuts) — one at your chest, where the reservoir will go, and the other at the base of your neck, where the other end of the port will connect to a vein. Before making the incisions, the doctor will inject a numbing medicine, and afterward, the cuts will be closed with stitches, surgical tape, or surgical glue. Overall, port placement surgery does not take long.
“It is a pretty easy surgery — about 45 minutes,” wrote one MyBCTeam member. “Mine was done under twilight sleep, so I was awake but could not feel pain.”
Another shared, “I was put completely under for my port placement. It was definitely sore and swollen and bruised for a while.”
“Mine was put in at the same time as my mastectomy was done,” said one member. “It was a small incision and healed very quickly.”
Recovery from chemo port surgery is generally easy, although you may experience some pain or discomfort that goes away within a day or two. Don’t remove any bandages until your doctor tells you to. When wearing a seat belt, use a small pillow or seat belt pad to avoid placing too much pressure on your port.
“No one had told me it was going to hurt, and I wasn’t prepared for that,” shared a member.
Another member posting the day after surgery said, “It doesn’t hurt except if you hit it.”
One member said that the pain was easily controlled: “I was given a small ice pack to use over my port insertion site, and that helped. Tylenol or ibuprofen helped too!”
You can usually wash your skin as you normally would and go about your daily activities, including exercising or swimming, once your surgical incisions heal. Figuring out how to sleep with a chest port may be challenging if the area is sore, but lying on your back or the side opposite the port should help.
To prevent your port from becoming blocked, your cancer care team may need to flush it out. This typically needs to happen once per month during a time you’re not using it. If your port becomes blocked or damaged or shifts too much underneath your skin, it may need to be repositioned, removed, or replaced.
Infection is a rare chemo port complication (side effect). Call your oncologist if you get a fever or chills or if the skin around your port changes color or swells.
Another potential problem is that the port can leak — for example, the tubing could disconnect from the port. If the area swells up, tell your provider, who will want to look at the affected area. In many cases, reconnecting the tubing to the port is a simple procedure.
Your doctor may tell you to apply a medicated cream before getting any injections through your port. “Try to remember the topical pain reliever,” suggested one member. “It really hurts if you don’t put it on before the chemo needle is put in the port.”
Several members also suggested covering the cream with plastic wrap. “I would put it on my port and cover it with Press’n Seal about an hour before they accessed my port,” one member commented.
You may want to wear comfortable, stretchy clothes while getting chemotherapy. Choosing a shirt with a wide neck or one designed with a special port access may make it easier for your care team to reach the port. “[I recommend] a V-neck shirt or zip-up hoodie for easy access to your port,” said one member.
During a chemotherapy treatment session, your cancer care team will likely start by drawing blood through your port for basic blood tests. You may get fluids or other medications through your port in addition to your chemotherapy drugs.
“The port does make it go smoothly when they put the needle in,” said a member. “My nurse is wonderful and has me take a deep breath, then as I let it out, she inserts it. Not bad. No pain.”
Your chemo port can remain in place for as long as you’re undergoing treatments. Sometimes, the port may be left in for years after chemo is done. In that case, you can continue to use it for follow-up blood testing or for additional treatments if your cancer returns.
“I kept [the port] in for two years after I completed my chemo,” said one member. “It was so much easier to have blood drawn.”
Chemo ports can be taken out with simple outpatient surgery, which is similar to what was done to place the port. Because these procedures involve only small incisions, they often heal easily.
One member described seeing where a neighbor’s port had been removed: “She pulled aside her T-shirt and showed me where she finally had her port removed, and I could not see a thing! She had to indicate the slight scarring, but I would not have noticed.”
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 58,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Are you living with breast cancer and need to get a chemo port for breast cancer treatment? Do you have a chemo port and can offer tips for others facing this situation? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.