Whether one chooses to seek conventional or alternative forms of breast cancer treatment, an oncologist or practitioner will always require patients receive a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line or a Port. Although, when patients are given this request, they often seem puzzled, confused and slightly overwhelmed as to what these devices are. To simply explain, these devices are used to facilitate the process of chemotherapy during a conventional breast cancer treatment (or other cancers). For those who frequently need to receive infusions or intravenous therapies, these instruments help to infuse any frequent medications without causing irritation or inflammation to smaller veins. At LifeWorks Wellness Center, those who undergo alternative breast cancer treatments are required to receive either a PICC or a Port prior to starting their cancer treatment program. However, what is the difference between these medical tools and how can we tell which one is best for us?
A PICC Line Explained
A PICC line is a long, thin and flexible tube that is inserted through a large vein within one arm (preferably the non-dominant arm). They are located slightly above the elbow, is tightly secured into the skin and attached to a large vein that is adjacent to the right side of the heart. During a PICC insertion, patients will be given a local anesthetic during the procedure. From there a radiologist will locate the vein with an ultrasound as the device is guided and attached to it. Afterwards, the PICC is secured with a dressing to prevent it from dislodging. A PICC sleeve is sometimes placed over the PICC line for comfort and support. During either conventional or alternative treatments, the PICC is used to provide frequent fluids or intravenous medications for a temporary period of time. At LifeWorks Wellness Center, PICC lines can be used for various uses that don’t include cancer treatments. For example, Lyme patients are often required to obtain a PICC line due to the numerous intravenous therapies they’ll likely receive and facilitate the treatment process.
A Port Explained
A port (or port-a-cath) is surgically implanted into a patient’s large vein located in the chest and directly underneath the skin. Similar to a PICC, a port is used to administer frequent intravenous treatments, nutrition, fluids, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and/or antibiotics. The device is attached to a small catheter that is threaded into the vena cava (a large vein on the right side of the heart). A dressing (bandage) is applied to protect the area from dirt, germs and other chemicals within the air. Patients with a port will usually show a miniature bump on the right side of their chest.
Which One is Best For Me?
Every breast cancer patient undergoes a different treatment process despite sharing a common illness. Cancer is a disease that affects people differently depending on medical history, DNA, and environmental factors. In addition, each cancer type is different depending on the stage and its aggressiveness. When patients discuss their treatment options with their practitioner and health care team, they often don’t understand the differences between a port or PICC line nor which one is the best option for their needs. Sometimes, after in-depth analysis, an oncologist may make the decision for the patient based on current health, lifestyle and how often they will need treatment. Other times, the decision will be made by the patient and what they are more comfortable with. While deciding between the two devices, its best to consider these following factors:
- The type of cancer (breast, pancreatic, prostate, skin, etc.)
- The stage
- An individual’s lifestyle
While these devices share the same purpose, individuals may find one more practical than the other depending on their case and what type of person they are. A PICC is usually recommended to those who may require intravenous therapies for two years or less. Those with PICC lines must avoid strenuous activities that involve a lot of upper body use. Additionally, they should avoid submerging their PICC in water in order to not increase the risk of infection. If one needs to shower, it is recommended to cover the PICC line with a plastic wrap (PICC shower cover) to ensure that the dressing remains dry and protected. Breast cancer patients are advised to flush their PICC daily and receive a dressing change at least once a week.
Meanwhile, a port is usually recommended to breast cancer patients who may require more frequent treatments or long-term access to the bloodstream. The device is made of a rubber catheter that connects to a large vein within the chest. All needle injections, infusions and/or intravenous therapies gain access to the body through the port. Unlike a PICC line, a port is more convenient for those who enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming, exercising or playing sports. In addition, the port will need to be flushed by a nurse or nurse practitioner every four weeks to ensure that the catheter doesn’t become blocked.
Both devices are extremely efficient for frequent blood draws, providing fluids and other intravenous medications to patients.
Talk to a Practitioner if You’re Unsure Which One is Best For Your Case
At LifeWorks Wellness Center, all (breast) cancer patients must have either a PICC or a port prior to starting their cancer treatment program. This is to facilitate the insulin-potentiation treatments and to avoid causing damage to any major veins during the process. Those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer but are uncertain of which one best suits their needs should consult with a LifeWorks practitioner to discuss details on their cancer, medical history and other underlying conditions. To schedule an appointment with a LifeWorks cancer specialist, please call 727-466-6789.
Learn more about our alternative breast cancer treatment methods.