By Lilly Manske, MedTech1 Staff
Susan, an ovarian cancer patient, had the Porta-Cath, a device that allows doctors to more easily administer chemotherapy, inserted into her chest following her hysterectomy. She said, “When I go in for treatment, I look at the women next to me, receiving chemotherapy the old way—through the veins in their arms. I hear them groan as the nurse tries to find the veins so they can get treatment. It seems much more painful that way.”
Traditionally, patients receive chemotherapy through a needle inserted into their veins in their arm. Susan’s doctors suggested that she have the Porta-Cath because of her small veins; finding and administering chemotherapy through veins the size of hers makes the process lengthier and more painful. Furthermore, an inexperienced nurse can have trouble finding small veins, which can cause further pain and bruising.
The Porta-Cath, a silicone-metallic device that doctors implant in the body to facilitate the easy administration of chemotherapy, can either be completely enclosed and hidden under the skin, or it can extrude through the skin. Susan said, “People inquire about whether the device hurts. I do not feel it now. It was inserted surgically and it can be removed in the same way.” The device lies beneath Susan’s skin and is only visible from side profile—her chest is only marked with a small lump and a scar. She said, “I go swimming, I wear a bathing suit; I can do all the activities I used to do.”
Doctors implanted Susan’s Porta-Cath for the easy facilitation of chemotherapy. Some patients keep the device in for future treatments, while others have the doctors remove it after the chemotherapy. Susan said, “The device is barely visible. I opt to keep the Porta-Cath with the optimistic thinking of as long as I have it, I may not need it again.”
The Porta-Cath carries risks as well as benefits. The greatest risk is for infection in the surrounding area, so both patients and nurses must take care to avoid contaminating it. These devices also increase the chance for blood clots. (Susan has a Greenfield caval filter in her leg to prevent blood clots, especially because blood clots are a concern for ovarian cancer sufferers.)
Although Porta-Caths do carry risks, they can improve the quality of life for cancer patients. Because caregivers have easy access to the blood, patients can be treated on an outpatient basis and avoid frequent hospitalization. Furthermore, antibiotics, pain medications, and other fluids can also be administered through the Porta-Cath. “Those concerned with whether the device is visible, baffle me,” says Susan. “I used to care if people could notice it, but no longer. Most swimming suits cover the area, but even if they did not, I would still wear them. I will not be ashamed of anything that improves the quality of my life, and makes treatment a little less painful.”