If your chemo port has been recently removed, you’re likely familiar with the happiness that accompanies that day. This milestone often signifies the completion of chemotherapy or other intravenous cancer treatments, marking a significant moment in your breast cancer journey.
However, in rare cases, pain and other side effects can linger after removal of a chemo port (also called a central line, a port-a-cath, or a central venous catheter). This pain can mean several things, including that the port damaged some nerves in the area where it was placed. Because ports are usually placed on the right side of the chest, the pain may be concentrated in that area, although there are other possible insertion sites.
There are several different kinds of nerve injuries that people may experience from chemo port placement. In addition, the port or the surgery to install it could cause peripheral neuropathy, a condition in which some of the nerves outside of the central nervous system no longer work properly.
In some cases, you may be able to treat your nerve injury. In others, treatments may be less successful. In all cases, if you think you are experiencing a nerve injury, you’ll need to talk to your health care provider. Here are some symptoms you should look for that can indicate nerve damage.
Pain is one of the most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and other nerve damage. Although the pain can extend anywhere the affected nerves reach, it usually occurs at the site of the nerve damage. This pain can go on for quite some time — sometimes for months or years after your port is gone.
Some MyBCTeam members have experienced this pain, like one who said, “I had my port removed in December. I am still having an ache below the collarbone. Usually, it is associated with pain in my shoulder and nerve pain into my arm.” Another added, “I had mine removed exactly a month ago, and my pain is intense.”
This pain might seem unrelated to any clear cause, as it could result from nerve damage. This damage can lead to pain appearing suddenly, making it feel stronger than it should for the actual sensation and causing it to happen too easily.
Tingling, like a pins-and-needles sensation, is another way that nerve damage can make itself known. This sensation is usually the body’s way of interpreting that the nerve is not working the way it should.
Sometimes, after having a port removed, you might feel a tingling sensation around the area where the port used to be. This tingling can also travel along the nerves to your shoulder and arm, causing similar feelings there. Some doctors compare tingling to radio static — the signal is getting through, but it’s not as clear as it should be.
Experiencing numbness at your port site or in areas where those nerves travel is also a sign of nerve damage. Numbness means that the signals from the nerves can’t get through, so your body doesn’t have any sensory information from that area.
You may not easily notice the numbness if it’s at your port site, because the upper chest is not generally an area where you need to get a lot of sensory information. If the numbness affects your arm or your hand, though, it could be more significant.
Sometimes, it’s hard to name the sensations that appear when you experience nerve damage. You may simply realize that the area in question doesn’t feel right, or you have sensations that you’ve never experienced before and you don’t know what to call them.
These unusual sensations have happened to several MyBCTeam members. As one person put it, “My port was removed March 3, and I’m still having pain and weird sensations where it was.” If you’re feeling strange sensations that you can’t explain or put a name to after your port has been removed, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor. These sensations could be a sign of possible nerve damage, and your doctor can help you understand and address the situation.
Nerve damage can also make it hard to feel some sensations, usually related to temperature or pain. Again, this might be difficult to notice if it occurs at your port site because you don’t usually rely on your upper chest to know if something is hot or cold. If the damage affects the nerve as it goes down your arm or elsewhere in your body, though, this could be a bigger issue for you. For example, this is especially true if it affects your hands. Because you use your hands for things like cooking, both hands need to be able to feel temperature. This way, you won’t accidentally touch a hot stove. Also, having the ability to feel pain is crucial. It helps you know if you cut yourself with a knife or another kitchen tool by mistake.
If you suspect that you are not feeling sensations that you should feel, try testing that hypothesis with water. Run some water, touch it with the hand that’s giving reliable signals, and then touch it with the other hand. If it doesn’t feel the same, you know that you need to take extra care to avoid danger and talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
In some cases, you might experience muscle weakness if your muscles are not getting the signals they need from your nerves. Unless you do a lot of pushups or upper body exercises, you may not notice this if it’s local to your port site. If muscle weakness affects your hand and your arm, though, it could affect everyday activities.
Simple tasks like holding a cup of coffee and bringing it to your mouth might become challenging if there’s an issue. You might notice this problem in how your muscles look, too. If the side of your body where the port was removed looks noticeably smaller compared to the other side, and there’s no clear reason for it, it could be a sign of nerve damage.
If your nerves are not sending clear signals to your muscles, they might get confused and start moving uncontrollably on their own. This symptom can take several forms, but one of the most common is twitching.
If the muscles around your port site or down your arm seem to move by themselves, you might be experiencing nerve damage. The muscles may eventually spasm, which can be painful and difficult to stop when damaged nerves are involved.
Even if you had your chemo port removed quite a while ago, you should talk to the person on your cancer care team who oversaw your implanted port insertion and removal if you are having problems with the site or that you think are related to the port.
New and lingering symptoms are worthy of your attention and your doctor’s time, no matter when they arise. Your oncologist may be able to follow up and help you find a medication or other treatment that will help ease your discomfort so you can feel completely healthy again.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
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