A Port, PICC or Cannula are the most common ways to give chemotherapy. Here's my story with a portacath which helped protect my veins massively.

There are a few different methods to give chemotherapy / immunotherapy intravenously (some are given orally). They are:

  • A cannula – a short, thin tube put into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand
  • A central line – a long, thin tube inserted into a vein in your chest
  • A PICC (peripherally inserted central venous catheter) - put into a vein in the arm and threaded through to a vein in the chest
  • An Implatable port (portacath) - put into a vein, with an opening (port) under the skin on your chest or arm.

I was offered a Portacath for my 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 18 rounds of hormone therapy. Watch my video to see how my portacath worked:


'Porta-what?' I asked my oncologist. It's basically a clever little gadget which lives under your skin throughout your treatment. I can safely say it was one of the best things I had and would highly recommend it. As I had 16 rounds of chemo ahead of me plus 18 rounds of hormone treatment my wee veins were going to take a bit of a battering. Now, I've had a  collapsed vein once, have you? Trust me, it's excruciating. The last thing anyone wants is the stress of finding a vein. Not when you're trying to kick the shizzle out of the cancer in your body. You can feel so emotional and vulnerable through your treatment that this honestly takes the stress out of the procedure (well some anyway - gin also probably helps but noone recommends that. Jobsworths).

The portacath
Me after having port fitted


The port in action

My new cancer pal Nicola (who found her symptom thanks to the Change & Check campaign) was told that she should be ok without a port as she only had four rounds of chemo to get through. How wrong they were (not intentionally i'm sure). Round 1 went ok but each time afterwards they couldn't find a vein and the pain was toe curling. The nurses would soak her arm in warm water (didn't work for her) and even use a scanner


Nicola's arm being scanned for veins...
Nicola being scanned for veins
Scanning for veins...note the bruising
Nicola's bruised arm
In Nic's arm at last
They've found a vein!
Arm warming is a thing!
Dedicated sink for poorly veins

to try and locate the veins. Nic told me how stressed and anxious it made her feel. Lots of others have said the same thing....but I haven't heard anyone complain about the portacath. My advice would be to ask about it if it's not offered, whether it's 3 rounds or 30 rounds you're up against. I can't stress the difference it'll make.

I had mine fitted under local anaesthetic in my arm. It only took about 20 minutes and was painless.

Another bonus is you get to wear fun pants.

My third nipple

How the port works

Many people have it just under their collarbone. My surgeon felt it would be better under my arm so that the little scar it left would be hidden (i've got the biggest scar from my armpit to the middle of my chest...so a piddly little scar from the port didn't really bother me tbh).

So I had this thing, an extra nipple if you like, for about 20 months. I have so many questions about it still. It's like a little disk attached to a tube. The tube is fitted into a vein permanently. Then when it comes to going in for chemo, a needle is inserted into the purple disk (under your skin). Bob's your uncle, you're in business. No need to heat your arms to find le veins. 

Having it removed was even easier. Not sure if that's because you're feeling fruity that it's coming to the end of your treatment or whether you're SO used to being poked and prodded by now that this is a walk in the park. I had another little local anaesthetic, small cut and it was whipped out. I didn't get any bruising like I did when it went in.

Simps. Definitely ask your oncologist about having one of these cheeky little things. Hashtag WorthIt.



Extra info taken from NHS website which you might find helpful:

How is the portacath inserted?

You will be asked to lie on the x-ray table. The area for the insertion will be cleaned with antiseptic fluid and draped with sterile towels. The radiologist will inject some local anaesthetic into your skin on your chest and neck to numb the area (or arm). This may sting a little as it goes in. After this you should only feel pressure not pain. Please let the nurse know if you are uncomfortable. The radiologist will make two cuts in the skin. The catheter will be inserted into the vein in your chest via one of these cuts. It will then be tunnelled under the skin to the second cut. The catheter is then connected to the port, which is fitted into a space created under the skin. We will check the position of the catheter and port with the x-ray machine. If it is satisfactory the cuts are then stitched and the dressing is put over the site.

Will I feel any pain?

The local anaesthetic injection will sting momentarily. The examination should be pain-free but you may still feel pressure where the doctor is working. If you experience any pain during the procedure please tell the nurse so pain relief can be given to you. Once the local anaesthetic wears off you may have some pain or discomfort. Pain medication such as paracetamol can be taken to ease the discomfort.

What happens after the portacath has been inserted?

After the insertion you will stay in radiology recovery for two hours. Your blood pressure and pulse will be measured frequently at first and then at regular intervals and a clip on your finger will measure the oxygen level in your blood. This is not painful.

When can the portacath be used?

The portacath can be used as soon as it is inserted. Prior to use, the skin will be cleaned. A special needle is then pushed through the skin into the port. Treatment is then given via this needle into the portacath. The treatment goes into the port and flows into the catheter and your bloodstream.

Care of the portacath

The portacath requires very little maintenance once the skin has healed. It is not visible to the outside but a small bump may be felt where the port was inserted. You may have a shower, bath or swim. Your portacath needs flushing once every four weeks when not in use. If you come in for treatment more frequently than four weeks, it will be flushed during these times. If your appointments are less frequent, you will need to see the nurse or doctor looking after you in clinic to have it flushed.

How will I know if something is wrong with my portacath?

If you have a temperature, chills or feel unwell, please let the medical team looking after you know. This could be an early sign of infection. Also let your doctor or nurse know if you are experiencing pain, redness or swelling on the pocket or disc site and if your arm, chest, neck or shoulder feels swollen and painful.

How is the portacath removed?

When you no longer need the portacath it will be taken out. This is usually done in the department where you had it inserted. Local anaesthetic will be applied to the area. A small cut is then made over the port site and the portacath is removed. As the catheter is attached to the port, this will be removed at the same time. The wound will then be stitched and dressed.

For more advice on Portcaths / PICC Lines / Cannulas please click here to visit MacMillan

Back to Articles

Giving back

By shopping with us you'll be supporting other cancer patients. Each month we will use profits to treat one of the randomly selected C List community members (aka YOU!) to something special. It might be a beauty gift or a fancy afternoon tea. So watch this space to see what we pull out of the C List goody bag. Oh and spread the word x

Follow us on