The port-a-cath is an implantable device for individuals who require frequent or long-term administration of intravenous medications such as antibiotics or chemotherapy.
What is a port-a-cath?
The port-a-cath device itself is made up of two parts: a port and a catheter. The port, or reservoir, is constructed of titanium metal and has a self-sealing rubber septum in the center. Connected to the reservoir is a long, thin plastic tube (catheter) that extends from the reservoir to a large vein that connects to the heart.
Although the port-a-cath can be felt under the skin, placement of the device is discreet and produces only a slight bulge under the skin. The port-a-cath doesn’t typically interfere with bra or clothing straps and is virtually unnoticeable.
Typically, the port-a-cath placement procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist through a one- to two-inch incision with the reservoir positioned just under the skin in the chest area. This is done under the guidance of ultrasound. If the port-a-cath is to be used that same day, your doctor may insert the access needle into the port at the time of the procedure.
A second incision will be made for insertion of the catheter, which runs under the skin and over the collar bone to a large neck vein that empties into the heart. Some patients receive general anesthetic for the procedure, but most remain awake and are given a mild sedative along with a local anesthetic (numbing medication).
The port-a-cath may be removed at any time, again using sedation and local anesthetic.
Why a port-a-cath is needed
The port-a-cath functions as an artificial vein and can be used for months or even years, if necessary. A typical port-a-cath can be accessed hundreds or even thousands of times. Other advantages of the port-a-cath device include the following:
- Less risk of infection than with traditional IVs
- Better able to tolerate potent or toxic drugs that could damage smaller veins
- Require less maintenance than standard IVs
- Can be used to obtain blood samples, administer medications, transfusions or IV fluids
- More comfortable than traditional needle sticks
Care of incision and port-a-cath
Immediately after the port-a-cath placement procedure, a bandage is placed over the incision sites. This should be kept dry and remain in place for approximately 2-3 days. Your doctor will discuss dressing removal with you.
Mild tenderness and swelling at the port site is normal for the first day or two. Avoid heavy lifting (over 10 pounds) for 3 days. After the incision sites heal, it is safe to bathe or shower.
You may resume normal activity as soon as the site is fully healed, but it is important to avoid contact sports, which could damage the port.
Once healing occurs, no special home care of the port is required. However, someone trained in port-a-cath care should flush the port with saline or heparin every four weeks to prevent it from becoming blocked. The port will also be flushed after each use.