Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer


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If you are having intravenous treatment for your cancer and are getting to the point where your veins are collapsing and it takes 4 or 5 goes to insert a cannula, you may be offered a line or a port.

A central (also known as Hickman) line is threaded through a large vein in your chest with the tip in a vein near your heart and the business end coming out of your chest wall. This has a connector (or 2 or 3) which unscrews to allow a drip to be set up or blood for tests to be taken. The only problem is that you have to look after it so that it does not get infected, but a District Nurse can help with this. The line will usually be removed at the end of all your treatment.

A PICC line operates in very much the same way, but the dangly end comes out of your arm near your elbow and is often covered by a bandage when not in use to stop it catching on clothes.

A port (or portacath) is a little device which is tunnelled under the skin of your chest wall and sutured into place. This is normally done under local anaesthetic (strange but not painful) and sedation. The end of the line coming from the port is inserted in a vein at the base of your neck. Unlike the lines, a port is totally under the skin - no dangly bits! The nurses push special needles into the port with a connector attached for the drip etc. There is less risk of infection with this arrangement but it is permanent. However it can be used for drips and taking blood by any hospital department.

Some hospitals, such as the Marsden, prefer to insert a port while you are under a general anaesthetic.


More detailed information on ports can be found on the Cancerbackup site