What is an implantable port (portacath)?

An implantable port is also known as a portacath or subcutaneous port. A thin tube called a catheter is attached to a small reservoir called a port. It can be used to give chemotherapy or medicine into a vein, or to take blood samples. 

The catheter is a thin, soft, flexible tube. It is usually put in under the skin of the chest or sometimes in the arm. One end of the tube goes into a large vein just above the heart. The other end connects to the port.

The port is a small disc that goes under the skin on the upper chest or arm. You will be able to see and feel a small bump on the skin where the port is.


Implantable port
Image: Implantable port



What is an implantable port used for?

A port can be used to give you treatments such as:

  • chemotherapy
  • blood transfusions
  • antibiotics
  • intravenous (IV) fluids.

Ports can also be used when you need to have blood tests. This means you will not need to have needles put into your arms every time you have treatment.

You can go home with the port in. It can be left in for weeks, months or, for some people, years.

A port may be useful if doctors or nurses find it difficult to get needles into your veins.

How is the implantable port put in?

A doctor called a radiologist or a specialist nurse will put your port in at the hospital. It is usually done in the operating theatre, or an area called the vascular radiology unit. You will usually have a local anaesthetic to numb the area. A general anaesthetic is sometimes used.

You will usually be able to go home on the same day. You may want to discuss the position of the port with your doctor before it is put in.

How the port is put in

The doctor or nurse will put a small needle into a vein in the arm or hand. They will give you medicine to help you relax. Your nurse or doctor will then inject a local anaesthetic into your skin to numb a few small areas on your chest and neck. You might feel some pressure on your chest or arm during the procedure, but you should not feel any pain.

The doctor or nurse will make 2 small cuts in the skin. These cuts may be called incisions. The first is made to create a pocket under the skin for the port. It will be about 3 to 4cm long. There will be a smaller incision above this. This is where they will put the catheter into the vein. This incision is usually less than 2cm long.

If the port is being put into a vein in the chest, the incisions are made on the upper chest. If the port is being put into a vein in the arm, they will be on the inner side of the arm.

The doctor or nurse will put the port under the skin. They then tunnel the catheter attached to the port under the skin to the smaller incision. Here, it will be put into a vein in the chest. They will then stitch up the incisions. You will have a chest x-ray to make sure the port is in the right place.

After the port is put in

You may have a small dressing to cover the wounds for a few days. The nurses will teach you how to look after it. Sometimes a skin glue is used instead.

You may feel a bit sore and bruised for a few days after the port is put in. You can ask your doctor or nurse which painkillers you should take to help with this.

Once the port has been put in, and for a few days after, check around the wounds for any:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • pain
  • heat.

Tell your hospital doctor straight away if you have any of these. You could have an infection which may need to be treated.

If the stitches are not dissolvable, they will be removed after about 7 to 10 days.

How is an implantable port used?

The port can be used soon after it has been put in. About half an hour (30 minutes) before it is used, the skin over the port can be numbed with an anaesthetic cream.

Just before you have any treatment or blood test, the nurse will clean your skin. The nurse will then push a special needle, called a Huber needle, through the skin and into the port. This should not be painful, but you may feel a pushing sensation.

Treatment can then be given directly into the bloodstream, or blood samples can be taken.

If you are having a short treatment, the needle will then be removed. For longer treatments, you will have a dressing placed over the needle to hold it in place until your treatment is finished. The needle is then removed.

Taking care of your implantable port

After each treatment, a small amount of fluid is flushed into the catheter, so it does not get blocked. The port will need to be flushed every 4 to 6 weeks if it is not being used regularly.

The nurses at the hospital can teach you how to do this. They can also teach a partner, family member or friend. Or a district nurse can do it for you at home.

Your port will not need any other care.

Possible problems with an implantable port


It is possible for an infection to develop inside the catheter or around the port. You should tell your hospital doctor or nurse if you:

  • have redness, swelling or pain around the port
  • notice fluid leaking from the skin around the line or port
  • have swelling of your arm, chest, neck or shoulder
  • feel pain in your chest, arm or neck
  • have a high temperature – over 37.5°C (99.5°F).
  • feel faint, shivery, breathless or dizzy.

If an infection develops, you will be given antibiotics. If the infection does not get better, the line may need to be removed.

Blood clots

It is possible for a blood clot (thrombosis) to form in the vein where the catheter sits. You should contact your hospital doctor or nurse if you notice any:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • redness in the neck or arm on the same side of the body as the port.

If a clot does form, you will be given medication to dissolve it. If the clot does not clear, your line may have to be removed.

Blocked line

The inside of the catheter can sometimes become partly or completely blocked. If this happens, it can be difficult to give treatment or to take blood tests through it. The catheter may be flushed with a solution to try to clear the blockage, or the port may need to be removed.

How is an implantable port removed?

When you do not need the port any more, it will be taken out. A doctor or specialise nurse will do this for you. A local anaesthetic is used to numb the area, or sometimes a general anaesthetic is used.

The doctor or nurse will clean the skin over the site of your port with antiseptic. They will make a small incision over the site and remove the port and the catheter. They will gently pull the catheter out of the vein. The wound is then stitched and covered with a small dressing.

You may feel a bit sore and bruised after your port is removed. You can ask your doctor or nurse which painkillers you should take to help with this.

Things to remember about implantable ports

  • It is best to avoid strenuous exercise for a few weeks after surgery, so your body can heal. Your doctor or nurse can give you information about this.
  • If the port is in your arm, do not let anyone take your blood pressure or take blood from a vein in that arm. Do not lift anything heavier than 7kg (15lb).
  • Only the Huber needles should be used on your port. Do not let anyone use any other type of needle. You may want to wear a medical ID bracelet saying you have an implanted port.

The port should not interfere with your daily life. If you need more information, you can ask your doctor or nurse at the hospital where you are being treated.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our chemotherapy information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Brighton, D. Wood, M. The Royal Marsden Hospital Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. 2005.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Neutropenic Sepsis Guideline CG151. 2012.

    Perry, MC. The Chemotherapy Source Book (5th ed.) Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 2012.

    UKONS Acute Oncology Initial Management Guidelines Version 3, March 2018. Available from www.ukons.org (accessed June 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 March 2022
Next review: 01 March 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.