A Port-a-Cath (or “port”) is a device used to deliver medications into the bloodstream through a small flexible tube called a catheter. It is about the size of a quarter and half an inch thick. The port is positioned underneath the skin and is visible as a small raised area.
Ports have many uses. They deliver:
- Chemotherapy to cancer patients
- Antibiotics or other medications for long periods of time
- Intravenous nutrition to patients who are unable to eat
- Blood products to patients with blood diseases
The port is placed during a short day-surgery procedure. Often the operation can be performed with IV sedation and local anesthetic. Once in the operating room, the surgeon selects the appropriate location, most commonly below the collarbone in the upper chest. The port is placed in a pocket underneath the skin. It is then connected to a catheter which is tunneled under the skin. The catheter will be inserted into the bloodstream. The incisions are closed, and no tubes or catheters protrude.
After the operation, the patient is taken to a recovery area where they are observed for 1-2 hours until the sedation wears off. A chest X-ray is often taken to confirm the position of the catheter and check for signs of complications such as pneumothorax. Avoid any strenuous activity for one week. After one week, you can resume physical activity. Typically, it is safe to resume showering 24-48 hours after the surgery. Do not swim or submerge the incision under water for 14 days. Patients are given a mild narcotic or ibuprofen for pain control. The port can remain in place for as long as treatment is necessary. Contact Austin Surgeons when it is time for the port to be removed, this can often be done in the office with local anesthetic.
The port can be used as soon as the operation is over. Sometimes patients start treatment the same day of the procedure. A nurse accesses the port with a special needle, a Huber needle, placed directly through the skin into the port. Most patients feel a mild pricking sensation during the insertion, which decreases over time. The port can also be used to draw blood for tests.
As with any surgery, there are risks. Complications are not common, but may include
- Injury to blood vessels or the heart
- Injury to the lung (“pneumothorax”)
- Catheter malfunction, clogging, leakage or breakage
- Catheter infection
- Deep venous thrombosis
- Need for further procedures
- Anesthetic complications