Should I Use a Port or an IV for Chemotherapy?

Each method Has Unique Benefits and Risks

Inside The Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre. Credit: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

Chemotherapy for breast cancer can be given as a fluid through infusions, as injections, and in some cases, as pills or tablets. If you are having chemotherapy infusions, you will need to ask your doctor if you should have a port implanted or if you should have intravenous infusions. Each option has benefits and risks that should be carefully considered.

What is an intravenous infusion (IV)?

An intravenous infusion (IV) uses a straight needle connected to a slim catheter tube.

Your infusion nurse will insert the needle directly into a vein usually in your hand or arm and connect the catheter to bags that contains the saline and drugs for your treatment. Each time you need a treatment or a blood draw, your nurse will need to repeat this needle insertion. The needle will be firmly taped to your skin so it won't slip out during your treatment.

What is a Port Infusion?

A port infusion uses an under-the-skin port that has been implanted by a surgeon. The port is located either in your arm or your chest and is connected by a soft, slim catheter tube that goes through your vein all the way to your heart. This catheter protects your vein during treatment. The port is an entry point that your infusion nurse can find each time you come for a treatment and it can be used for a blood draw, as well as for infusion of drugs. Your chemotherapy nurse will use a special type of needle to access your port and won't have to search for a good vein to use.

The needle will be taped into place to prevent it moving around during your infusion.

Comparing Ports and IVs for Chemotherapy

Here are some things to consider when comparing ports and IVs for chemotherapy treatments:

Port Benefits:

  • Your nurse can always find the port, so no extra needle sticks to find a good vein
  • All of your drugs can be given through the port, so there's less need for needles
  • Some drugs are given exclusively through ports
  • Drugs can be given slowly, reducing side effects
  • Port catheter protects your vein
  • Blood and platelet transfusions can also be given through a port more conveniently
  • Ports can be flushed with heparin, to prevent blood clots
  • Caring for the needle wound is easy; just use a bandage and keep the port clean
  • Bathe and swim as usual; no special precautions are needed
  • Medicare and health insurance will cover the costs

Port Drawbacks and Risks:

  • A surgeon must implant and remove the port during surgery
  • In rare cases, a vein wall may be punctured during implantation
  • It is possible, but rare, for a port site to become infected
  • If a blood clot blocks a port, it will need to be cleaned out before it can be used again.

IV Pros

  • No extra cost
  • If you need four or fewer treatments, it may be unnecessary

IV Cons/Risks

  • Your veins will be unprotected during infusions
  • If a vein ruptures during treatment, the drugs will leak into your tissues
  • It is possible to feel the drugs moving through your vein during a treatment
  • Your arm or hand may need to be warmed before needle insertion
  • Needle wound must be kept clean and dry until it heals

    Consult with your doctor to see which option makes the most sense for your unique situation 


    National Cancer Institute. Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer. How is chemotherapy given? Posted: 06/29/2007.

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