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How Do I Choose Between a Port or an IV for Chemotherapy?


Updated December 24, 2007

Chemotherapy Port Catheter Line

Chemotherapy Port Catheter Line (pink and white tube)

Illustration © A.D.A.M.
Question: How Do I Choose Between a Port or an IV for Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy for breast cancer can be given as fluids (infusions), as injections (added to infusions), 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 can have intravenous infusion. So how do you choose which is right for you?

Learn About Port and IV Infusions

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 (subcutaneous) 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 infusion of drugs. Your chemotherapy nurse will use a special type of needle to access your port, and won't have to hunt 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 Pros

  • 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 (one-stop shopping, less 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 Cons/Risks
  • A surgeon must implant and remove the port (requires 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 or surgery for a port.
  • If you need four or less 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.


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

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  6. Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer - Port or IV

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