For patients that require intravenous chemotherapy or intravenous infusions to treat certain medical conditions, the treating physician may refer to us for vascular access or port placement. Ports are small metal or plastic reservoirs that are implanted under the skin, usually in the chest, that are connected to a catheter that ends in one of the large veins near the heart. The port is completely buried under the skin, but infusion staff can feel the port through the skin, so they understand how to precisely place a specialized type of needle into the port (under sterile conditions) to administer medication. This also allows for blood to be drawn for labs and testing. Blood can be transfused through a port and all intravenous fluids can be given through a port. They can also be used for IV dyes given during X-rays such as CT scans and MRIs.
Ports are surgically implanted in the operating room, usually with the use of a general anesthetic. They are ready to be used as soon as they are implanted. Removal is usually done under local anesthesia. Infection is the most common complication so utilizing sterile techniques when the ports are accessed with a needle is of the utmost importance. There is also a complication called “one sitedness” where the port is stuck in the exact same skin site over and over to the point that a hole develops and the port gets exposed and then infected. A slightly different skin site over the port should be used each time, and the staff members that access the ports should be aware of this technique.