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A subcutaneous port is a central venous catheter located completely under the skin. Medicine is given through the port using a special needle, called a Huber needle. A numbing cream can be used over the area before needle sticks. This device is also known as a port-o-cath, implantable port, or subcutaneous infusaport.
The port is located just under the skin, usually in the chest. It is a small disc with a raised center. The catheter is attached to the base of the port and extends into the vein. The center of the disc, called a septum, is a raised area made of rubber. Medicines or other fluids are injected into the septum and travel through the catheter to the vein. The port may have 1 or 2 access points (single lumen or double lumen).
Placement of a subcutaneous port is a common procedure during cancer treatment and has important benefits for patients and families. However, there are always risks involved with anesthesia and surgery. The main risks during insertion include bleeding, puncture of a lung or blood vessel, blood clots, irregular heartbeat, nerve injury, and infection. After line placement, blood clots, movement of the catheter out of position, and infection are the most common complications. Surgery is also required to remove the port. Serious complications are rare, but they do occur. Be sure to ask questions and follow all instructions given by the care team.
Children will receive general anesthesia for port placement. They will not feel pain or be aware during the procedure. Patients will be given NPO instructions for limiting food and drink before the procedure. It is very important to follow these guidelines. The total time for the procedure is usually about 1-2 hours with anesthesia and recovery.
A nurse will teach families how to care for the subcutaneous port. The port must be flushed every 4 weeks with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that keeps the blood from clotting and blocking the line. During treatment, a needle will be placed to access the port, and a dressing will be worn over the area. The needle must be changed every 7 days, and the dressing must be kept clean and dry. When the port is not in use, the needle is removed and patients can do most daily activities.
The area will be sore for a few days. There will be a few stitches where the incision was made. There may be some swelling or bruising in the area. Avoid strenuous activities for 6 weeks or until advised by a doctor.
There will be a “poke” when the catheter is accessed using a Huber needle. Medications may be given with a syringe or an IV bag. Let a nurse know if you have any pain or discomfort while receiving your medications.
Follow all care instructions to keep the line working properly and to prevent infection. Avoid activities such as contact sports that might cause impact to the implanted catheter site.
A Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infection (CLABSI) can be life-threatening. Call your doctor at any sign of infection such as pain, redness, swelling, or fever.
Reviewed: June 2018