Everything you need to know about ……….. Ports.  From the patient’s perspective.

So you have cancer and your doc starts talking about this thing called a port.  No, unfortunately I’m not talking about the ports where ships go.   I’m talking about a mediport for chemotherapy.

People keep asking me questions about my port — mainly people starting or going through chemotherapy. People seem to be more curious about the port than anything else (I even find lots of people searching about them arrive here through random searches of Google or Yahoo). So … Here’s what I can tell you about ports.  As always, your mileage may vary, ask medical people when you have questions, etc.

What is a port?

A port is short for “mediport.” A port is a small device that is implanted under your skin so that medicine may be delivered directly into your blood system. Blood can also be drawn out of the port to be sampled. The port is sometimes also called a venous access catheter.

Why would I want or need a port?

There are a few reasons you might want or need a port.

1) Certain chemotherapy drugs (including those used to treat Hodgkin’s Disease) can cause serious irritation to the veins when they are infused. When the drug is injected through the port rather than into another vein (such as one in your arm), the drug doesn’t directly enter the skin and the likelihood to cause irritation is drastically reduced.  Of the four drugs in ABVD, the “D” drug (Dacarbazine) is especially known to cause pain when given through a peripheral IV.

2) Frequent use of the peripheral veins (i.e. those in your arms and hands) can cause scarring and make the veins difficult or even impossible to access. The port “saves” a lot of wear and tear on these veins. Most blood draws and other kind of treatments can also be given through the port.  (For example, if you ever needed IV antibiotics for an infection.)

3) If you are getting frequent treatment or need frequent blood draws, a port (as opposed to another device) allows you to swim, shower, and basically maintain regular activities.  I’ve had a PICC line for another reason, and believe me: a port is much, much easier to deal with.

How does it work?

The port is placed completely under the skin, usually on the chest below the collarbones, but other locations can be used as well if desired or necessary. The port forms a small bump under the skin. This raised part is called the port’s reservoir. The reservoir has a plastic membrane or bubble of self-sealing rubber in it called a septum. The septum leads directly into a large vein or artery.

A nurse uses a special needle called a Huber (or “butterfly”) needle to “access” the port. The nurse places the Huber needle through the reservoir and into the septum. This allows access to the large vein. The nurse can then either draw blood, inject medication, or simply leave the needle in place for future use.

What does it look like?

I took some pictures of my port to show people what it looks like.  I’ve found most people are really curious and have never seen a port before.  I had no clue what one looked like and had trouble finding any pictures — so hopefully this helps “explain” what a port looks like and gives you more of an idea of what to expect.  (If you’re like me, you like to know EXACTLY what you’re in for.)

First, this is what a port looks like when it’s actually hooked up and accessed.  The dressing is placed over the top of it to keep it clean and dry.  The clear tube coming out of the port is what gets hooked up to the IV machine or to the syringe for chemo.  I took this picture on one of the few days I actually had my port left accessed at home. Chemotherapy Port for Cancer TreatmentThis is what the port looks like all hooked up for chemo or any other infusion. A port can be used not only to deliver chemo, but for routine blood draws and even to just give you nice drugs like fluids. When it is not hooked up, it looks like a little bump underneath the skin about the size of a nickel with a scar above it. That’s it.  (When the port is accessed, you can’t get it wet.  But sometimes I would have to see my oncologist the day before chemo and he’d draw labs … to avoid the second stick the next morning when I got chemo, I’d sometimes leave the port accessed over night.)

What does a port itself actually look like?

A port looks something like the image to the left.  This is the reservoir part that is implanted into your chest.  Ports come in different sizes.  The standard adult size port is about the size of a quarter.  I had a pediatric port because the lymph nodes in my chest were so large that a standard size port wouldn’t fit.  My port is about the size of a dime.

There is a catheter (the long tube like extension attached to the reservoir) attached to the port that leads from the port itself into a large vein or artery.

If you have a choice (you may or may not…), you may want to consider putting your port on the right side.  That way when you drive, the seatbelt will be less likely to bother it.  (That said, mine was on the left, and the seatbelt never really bothered me.)

How long can you keep a port?

A port can be kept indefinitely.  Reasons to remove a port include problems with it (such as infection) or simply because it isn’t needed anymore.

When not used regularly, a port needs to be occasionally flushed with heparin to keep it functioning properly.  I kept my port for almost three years and had no problem with it.

How did they put it in?

My port was placed using just local anesthetic.  It was done in a surgery room in the radiology department.  The surgeon made two incisions — one on the right side of my chest below the collar bone and a second incision in my neck on the same side.  The chest incision was the “pocket” where the port itself was placed.  The second smaller incision was for tunneling the catheter.

Did it hurt to put it in?

Not really.  It was more unpleasant than painful.  I had the option for more anesthesia than just local, but to be honest for me the risk of anesthesia would outweigh the mild unpleasantness factor.

The painful part was injecting the lidocaine.  That felt like getting stung over and over by a bee.  Pleasant?  No.  Painful?  A little, but totally doable.

When the surgeon was actually working on the port, it felt like he was tugging at me.  Not painful, just strange.

Does accessing the port hurt?

Accessing the port still requires a needle stick.  It hurts probably just as much as getting an IV in the arm, but the advantage of the port for me is there was only one time that required two sticks to get good access.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve needed to be stuck more than once for an IV or blood draw.

What does the scar look like?

See above.  Although there was also an incision on my neck, I don’t seem to have any scar there.  That incision was quite small.

Does having a port effect your daily life?

I ran with my port, I showered … I usually forgot that it was there except for when a seat belt occasionally rubs up against it or something.  I like the port because my veins aren’t very good and the port saves a lot of needle sticks.

Anyway, I hope this helps demystify the port!


26 thoughts on “Ports.”

  1. Thank you for having the courage to show what a port looks like. I was just diagnosed with cancer (not Hodgkin’s) and my doctor wants me to get a port. Seeing what it actually looks like makes it A LOT less scary. So thank you for posting this.

  2. thanks for the post. Oh how I hated my port. I loved so much about it but I also hated it. The scar is interesting and is sort of like a handshake into a secret club. At time people will point to my port scar and then pull down the neck of their shirt to show me their scar. In those moments I feel equally honored and exposed. Again, good on you for posting about it.


  3. Jenny, Thanks for your post on the port. My husband, Kevin (Civil War Memory) pointed out your great blog to me. While I am not a historian, I love reading about history by “association”. But in this case your post on the port was interesting for me because my sister just finished chemo and radiation last year. She is doing very well. However, I wished she would have been offered a port because the chemo destroyed her veins. More important so, you sound like a fighter and your attitude reminds me of my sister’s. Keep it up.

  4. Anybody who can post this REALLY has their head on straight….no wonder that you bounce back from the rough spots….

  5. Amanda, best of luck with your treatment.

    Jenne, I love your blog. Good to see another Hodge survivor with a well-developed sense of humor.

    Randy, thanks … The port actually wasn’t that bad. And getting it wasn’t very painful even though I just chose the local anesthetic route.

    Ben, I knew you’d LOVE the port porn.

    Michaela, thanks for checking out my blog. My oncologist considered ports mandatory, and since I had eight months worth of chemo, I’m glad he did. I hope your sister continues to do GREAT!

    Bob, I dunno how straight. :)

  6. Do you know that many dogs, cats and even ferrets also have ports for chemotherapy – and they seem to love them – the owners say it is better than their pets being poked and prodded to find a vein.

  7. Thank you for sharing your information. I was diagnosed 1 month ago uT3 N2…and have to have chemo/rad prior to surgery and chemo post-surgery. Your facts and humor helped me more than you will ever know. Thank you..and God Bless.

  8. thank you for all the Hodgkins/port info. My sister-in-law was recently diagnosed with Stage IIB
    Hodgkins. I am one of her primary care givers and she has really “handed over” to us all the decisions, information etc. about her disease…we decipher all the technical aspects, side effects, possible protocols etc. and then in turn simplify her treatment options and disease info for her. You have aided me greatly and I will educate her on what to expect and your experiences.

  9. Thanks for this info – I was just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s 2 weeks ago, Stage 2a. I’m a 28 year old female just like you – and it came out of nowhere. I start chemo next week and will decide after this first one whether I should get a port or not.

    Maybe I will now that I have read your blog. Im am not into needles, I mean I profusely sweat when I even think about one. So, this has not been easy for me.

    Thanks for all of the info – I am still in shock!

    I hope you are doing well and hopefully you are done with Chemo by now! Wish me luck…

  10. Hey there, its Kerri again. I am having my 8th treatment tomorrow, and yes I did decide to get a port. It has been a life saver! Anyone who is thinking about getting one definitely should, it just makes your life so much easier and less painful. My oncologist has decided I should have 9 total treatments, odd number I know. So I will have 4.5 rounds. I guess he just wants to be sure. I will start radiation in February. I did not lose all of my hair, but its pretty thin right now and very frail. It sticks up everywhere because it has broken off in so many places. I try to be so careful with it, but its hard. Im sick of the hair all over my house, it’s pretty gross and frustrating at times. But, its better than losing all of it I guess. Every time I touch it some falls out. Anyways, I just wanted to write again and give an update since the previous post was before I even started treatment. For all of you newbies out there, don’t worry – everything is going to be ok. It’s tough – but its definitely something you can handle. Be strong and this too shall pass. Best of luck to all of the newly diagnosed Hodgie’s on here!

  11. Hi Kerri,

    I’m a 30 year old who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins’s lymphoma. I had my port placement today. I am scheduled to begin my first round of chemo next week. I am a bit nevous because I really don’t know what to expect. How did you feel after your first round of chemo?

  12. Thanks you so much for this very valuable information on mediports. My little twin girls Addi and Cassi have Niemann Pick Type C disease which is often referred to as the “childhood Alzheimer’s.”

    They will be the first in the US to get infusions of a sugar compound called cyclodextrin and it’s going to be administered through a mediport just like they do for cancer patients. I have been very scared about putting the ports into them and sticking them all the time for the infusions and I can’t thank you enough for demystifying the entire process.

    Do you ever get the numbing cream put on your skin so you can’t feel the prick? I think this might help and I plan to do this with my girls so the don’t feel the prick.

    I am going to do a blog on this topic and I will point to your informative website for information!

    Thanks Again,
    Chris Hempel

    1. I felt so bad when I read about your girls. I have a recuring Thymoma which is a rare cancer in which the tumer usually grows in the cavity of the chest. I’m having my pet scan tomorrow and the port put in Tuesday. I just wanted to send all my best to you and your family.

  13. Hi Jenny, how soon after having your port placed were you able to run again without it feeling extremely uncomfortable? I had mine placed a week ago, and, and avid runner, I am going out of my mind not being able to run.

  14. I am pretty scared about getting my port, I pretty much don’t want to get into surgery again, and I just met someone who’s lung been pinched accidentally while putting the port in.
    Im getting it after my second cycle, because my veins are pretty delicate.
    I hope I get the same luck that you did, and get my port with local and no accidents.

  15. I start my chemo monday and the nurse mentioned having to do a port if it doesn’t work out well in 1-2 tries without it. It’s scaring the hell out of me and I know I scar bad. The idea of loosing my hair is enough I don’t want a bump sticking out of me with scars as well!!!

  16. Thank you for sharing your port story and information. I enjoyed reading about the history of Hodgkin’s disease. You are an excellent writer. I am working on a website that showcases a new technology that will tell care-givers when they have adequately cleaned the port site and equipment and thus prevent the infections and death that sometimes accompanies port infections. I wondered if I could have your permission to use the photo of your port in this website. Could you let me know if that is okay with you? Thank you so much.

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