Chemotherapy for breast cancer can be a pain in the neck — and neck pain with an implanted port is sometimes a contributing factor. Ports provide convenient access for chemotherapy and blood tests, but they can also be uncomfortable.
Here’s what you need to know about neck pain with a port, ways to manage it at home, and when to call your oncologist.
It’s normal to expect some pain during port placement and soreness as your body adjusts to having an implanted access device. You may be offered numbing cream for the port site and medication to help you relax to make the process more comfortable. Minor bleeding and bruising are also normal. However, after a day or two, you should feel better. If the pain increases rather than decreases, you’ll want to call your provider.
Nonetheless, many members of MyBCTeam feel having a port has been highly beneficial. “As a person with stage IV TNBC [triple-negative breast cancer], I am so thankful that I have a port,” said one member. “I’ve had it for 2 1/2 years, and it has been accessed 102 times for chemo, IVs for surgeries and procedures, contrasts for scans, and blood draws. Since I have stage IV, I will be in treatment indefinitely. I am grateful that it can remain indefinitely and continue to make treatments and scans so much easier!”
You may need to adjust the way you do ordinary things to avoid pain around your port. For instance:
MyBCTeam members have described learning to avoid port pain. “I had pain up my neck after my port stopped being swollen,” explained one member. “They did a port dye check, which showed that everything was great. But I found out that if you are going shopping for the day, do not carry your heavy purse on the same side as your port.”
Connecting with other people who are undergoing breast cancer treatments can help you learn everyday tips for things like caring for your port or dealing with pain. The support you can get from others, either online or in person, can make all the difference in your experience with treatment.
Cancer care is a two-way street. It’s essential to advocate for yourself if you’re concerned about an issue with your port. Your health care team may be able to modify how often they use it or provide other solutions, like a local anesthetic, to help you feel more comfortable.
Members of MyBCTeam sometimes share how they deal with port pain during medical appointments. “The medical staff used freeze spray for numbing, but that alone doesn’t help much,” wrote one member. “My port is very swollen, so my three bumps aren’t easily noticeable, which has caused problems when accessing it. I didn’t have a lot of pain when it was first put in, but after the first time they accessed the port for chemo, it’s been sore and uncomfortable ever since … . I only let them access it for chemo because the discomfort is too much afterwards, and the missed attempts make me anxious. So for blood draws, I just have them stick me. It’s less traumatizing.”
Another member shared a similar experience, “I had my doctor look at it a few times, and she said with some patients, their bodies just don’t react well with the port. I’ve had an ultrasound to make sure everything is in place right, and it was. For me, my swelling hasn’t seemed to go all the way down, which makes it harder to access. I only use it for treatments. I don’t use it for blood samples because it’s too hard to access.”
Infections and blood clots are two potentially dangerous complications of having a neck port. Signs of infection can include increased pain in the area and swelling, oozing, fever, or chills. Blood clots can produce shortness of breath and swelling in other nearby body parts, like the arms and hands.
Your doctor will be able to help address any issues related to your catheter or port.
One MyBCTeam member warned others to be on the lookout for swelling. “I got a blood clot between the port and my heart. Watch for swelling in your left arm. The port was removed during the bilateral mastectomy. I get treatment in my arm now,” they shared.
Make sure to read any information provided to you when your port is initially placed so you know what signs and symptoms to expect. Generally, the risk of complications is low. Don’t hesitate to follow up with your health care provider if something doesn’t seem right.
Once you’re reassured by a professional that you don’t have any complications, there are some basic steps you can take at home to prevent and reduce neck pain. Pain management is an important aspect of breast cancer treatment at any stage. People experience pain differently, so communicating with your oncologist will let them know when you need help. When pain is well managed, breast cancer will have less of an impact on your daily life.
Make sure to discuss any over-the-counter pain medications you’re using, as certain types may interfere with your treatments. Also, ask about complementary services to help with pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, or mindfulness meditation. Meeting with a pain specialist at your cancer center can help you learn more about your options. It’s very common for people with cancer to participate in these activities, and you might find them helpful for improving your overall sense of well-being.
Chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer can be challenging enough, and neck pain related to an implanted port can add to the discomfort. However, understanding how to manage this neck pain at home and knowing when to ask for guidance from your oncologist can help ease your symptoms and ensure a smoother treatment experience.
By staying informed and actively communicating with your health care team, you can navigate this aspect of breast cancer treatment with greater confidence and find relief from port-related neck pain. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and support is available to help you every step of the way.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 63,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their tips with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you experienced neck pain with a port? Do you have any tips for relieving this pain? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.