Catheters are flexible hollow tubes made of Teflon or silicone that can be used to deliver fluids, chemotherapy, or antibiotics into a vein. Oncology nurses are responsible for placing the catheter-needle in the patient’s vein. After the day’s treatment ends, the nurse removes the catheter; a new catheter is used for each treatment course.
The type of the catheter chosen depends upon the duration and nature of the treatment. An Angiocatheter is simplest and cheapest type. It is placed temporarily in the vein of hand or arm. An angiocatheter has an in-use time of few minutes to few days.
A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is put in a big vein near the elbow and advanced through arm and shoulder so that its tip is in the chest near the heart. The patient receives anesthetic during the procedure, and an X-ray afterward confirms the placement of the catheter. The in-use time of the PICC line is around 6-7 weeks.
The doctor may suggest placing the catheter under your skin for stable and safe administration. This catheter is connected to a plastic disk, called a port. The port is about the size of a quarter and made-up of self-healing silicone. Nurses can puncture the port hundreds of time before it must be replaced, so it usually remains in place during the treatment. A combination of catheter and port is called a Port-a-Cath or implantable port. A surgeon places it in the bigger vein of the chest that empties into the heart. Special instruments (Huber Needles) are used for injecting medication into the port.
Tunneled catheters are placed in patient’s neck or chest under the skin. These catheters have an in-use time of years with proper dressing and maintenance. Tunneled catheters have multiple entrances, called lumens, to administer more than one medicine at the same time. A triple lumen with three entries is used most widely for chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant.
If not cared for properly, catheters and ports can cause infections and blockages. If the catheter’s tip is outside of the skin, do not touch the tip with the cap off and try to keep the catheter area above water.